A Lafayette woman was killed and her 7-month-old nephew injured Friday after a man staying in the room next to hers at a Fort Bragg motel apparently got in his truck and drove it into into their room.
The bizarre incident shook tiny Fort Bragg and touched off a brief search for the driver of the truck, identified as Michael B. Bitney, 56, of Fort Mohave, Ariz., who allegedly fled the scene while witnesses attempted to revive 45-year-old Karen Zuehlsdorf, 45, of Lafayette.
Police said Zuehlsdorf was staying at the Beachcomber motel with her nephew while a family group went on to ride the area’s fabled Skunk Train. Friend Maureen Flores told police the incident was an apparently random attack, a case of someone being in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” The only connection between Zuehlsdorf and Bitney, police said, was that they shared neighboring rooms.
Bitney was spotted and arrested by a California State Parks ranger on North Highway 1 shortly after the incident. Witnesses identified him as the man driving the truck at the time of the crash and he was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, hit and run and a misdemeanor battery charge. Bail was initially set for Bitney at $55,000, which prompted some questions from members of the victim’s family, but on Monday additional felony charges were filed – including a prior strike conviction and penalty enhancements for a habitual criminal and bail was increased to $155,000.
Zuehlsdorf leaves behind a 16-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son.