MODESTO — Modesto City Schools board member Steven Grenbeaux is facing a felony assault charge stemming from an incident a year ago when he says he drove around a road construction barrier and was confronted by a Caltrans worker in downtown Modesto.
The incident occurred about 3:20 p.m. April 18, 2012, on L Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. The Stanislaus County district attorney's office filed a criminal complaint March 4, charging Grenbeaux with assault likely to cause great bodily injury.
Reached by phone, Grenbeaux, 67, said he had been expecting a traffic ticket and was "flabbergasted" when he heard that an arrest warrant with criminal charges had been issued.
Grenbeaux said he drove around the construction barrier and was confronted by the Caltrans employee, whom he described as "very big, very angry, very profane."
The complaint alleges Grenbeaux assaulted Dan Robles, who said Wednesday he has worked for the California Department of Transportation for 30 years and currently is a crew supervisor. He said his crew had just laid asphalt near the railroad crossing on L Street.
The road was going to be opened to traffic in about 15 minutes when Robles heard a vehicle accelerating. He then saw Grenbeaux's car inside the construction area.
"We had cones, we had signs, we had vehicles blocking the road," Robles said. "All he had to do was drive around the block."
Robles said he instantly feared for his crew, so "I jumped out in front to stop him."
The Caltrans supervisor said Grenbeaux appeared very angry, telling him he had to get through. So, Robles responded with profane language. "I told him to back the f--- up," Robles said.
That's when, Robles said, Grenbeaux tried to move him with the car. "He was pushing me with his vehicle, with the bumper," Robles said. "He's bumping me to get me out of the way."
Denies hitting worker
Grenbeaux said that he did not hit Robles with his car and that the Caltrans worker showed no sign of injury at the time. "They're calling it a bump," he said. "I didn't see it and I still deny that I hit him."
Robles said he was not injured, and it didn't appear to him that Grenbeaux was trying to run over him. He said the school board member then backed up his car and drove out of the site the way he came in.
One of Robles' fellow Caltrans workers was seriously injured in November in a car wreck that killed an off-duty Oakdale police officer. A big rig slammed into the back of the officer's car just after he had stopped for a Caltrans worker in a construction zone on Highway 132.
"We put these signs up and these cones for our protection," Robles said. "We want to go home safe to our families."
"I made a mistake in going around that barrier," Grenbeaux said. "I was trapped by cars to my left, on my right. I thought I'd just go around and there was nobody there."
The Caltrans crew was away from the construction barrier at the time, he said, and the entire incident lasted about 45 seconds to a minute.
The California Highway Patrol investigated the incident and in June submitted the case to the district attorney's office. The investigating officer could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
There were no further details available from the CHP. Chantel Miller, a Caltrans spokeswoman, said all she could say at the moment is that Caltrans is cooperating with law enforcement.
Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne, who is prosecuting the case, said after Wednesday's hearing that he couldn't discuss the details of the investigation at this time.
Grenbeaux never was arrested and has been released on his own recognizance as he awaits prosecution. Aaron Villalobos, Grenbeaux's defense attorney, said the charges against his client arose from an argument.
"Mr. Grenbeaux acknowledges that he should have paid better attention to the cone pattern, and if he had the opportunity to do it again, he wouldn't have argued with the Caltrans employee," Villalobos said in a written statement. "At no point did the dispute become physical."
Plea of not guilty
The school board member was arraigned April 4 and has pleaded not guilty. Villalobos appeared in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Wednesday morning for a pretrial hearing.
Grenbeaux was not in court Wednesday. A judge has granted the defense attorney's request that the defendant has to be in court only if his attendance is necessary.
Villalobos asked to postpone the hearing because he and the prosecutor are beginning negotiations on a possible plea deal. Judge Thomas Zeff scheduled the attorneys to return to court May 15 for a continued pretrial hearing.
Grenbeaux was re-elected to the Modesto City Schools Board of Education in 2011 for a second four-year term. He also served on the board from 1979 to 1991. Grenbeaux retired in 2007 after 33 years as a fifth-grade teacher at Empire Elementary School.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.
Bee staff writer Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.