Rhonda Parker / @ 11:24 a.m. / Courts

Choking Back Tears, Humboldt State Student Pleads Guilty to Vehicular Manslaughter for His Role in DUI Crash


A Humboldt State University student pleaded guilty today to running over and killing an Arcata man while driving drunk.

Robert Willard Bergeson III admitted to vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in the death of Alan Gradwohl, 55. Gradwohl was struck and killed in an Arcata crosswalk about 8 p.m. on Sept. 4.

Bergeson, 24, faces a maximum of four years in state prison. He is scheduled for sentencing Feb. 22.

Bergeson was driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.16 when he made a left turn and his van hit Gradwohl, who was about 3 feet into the crosswalk at 14th and H streets. Gradwohl, 55, was thrown onto the hood of the van. He was screaming “Stop! Stop! Stop!” according to a statement read today by Deputy District Attorney Brent Kling. The van traveled a few more feet; Gradwohl fell off the hood and was run over. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bergesen choked back tears this morning while listening to the prosecutor read a statement provided by the Arcata Police Department. Police say Bergeson had been drinking with friends that day and had four passengers in his van when it hit Gradwohl. One of the passengers told police that people in the van were “being rowdy” and Bergeson may have been looking right instead of left when he made the fatal turn.

Police later searched the van and found “a number of beer cans,” Kling said. Passengers said they didn’t believe Bergeson was drinking in the van.

Bergeson and his friends were reportedly on their way to have a drink at The Alibi when Gradwohl was struck.

In exchange for the plea to vehicular manslaughter, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed two counts of drunken driving involving injury.

Judge John Feeney said he accepted the plea because Bergeson has no prior criminal record “and has certainly expressed remorse for his actions.”

Outside of court, a tearful Bergeson declined comment. But his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Heidi Holmquist, called the death “a real tragedy” and indicated Bergeson is suffering.

“Robert is feeling it on his end,” Holmquist said.

Bergeson is still enrolled full-time at HSU, a university spokesman confirmed. At the time of his arrest he had a full beard. He is clean-shaven now, and his dark hair is short. He was dressed this morning in slacks, a sweater vest and a long-sleeved shirt. Two worried-looking young women accompanied him to court.

Gradwohl had been back in Arcata for about a year after living elsewhere for many years. Friends have described him as a brilliant person with a gift for music. He was working as a sound engineer for a local band when he was killed.

Some of Gradwohl’s family members are expected to travel from out of the area to make statements at Bergeson’s sentencing.

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