Crime - Sacto 911

Man sentenced to 27 months in prison for ax attack on ranger

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a drunken man who attacked a Lassen National Park ranger with an ax last year to 27 months in prison.

Nicholas Martin Coberley claimed that he had been staying with a friend and had been drinking when they got into an argument and he wandered away on foot – when ranger Chris Cruz came upon him in a truck, according to court papers filed by his lawyer.

Coberley, 45, pleaded guilty on Oct. 11 for the June 20 incident. His attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Sean Riordan, said in a court filing that Coberley jumped into the back of Cruz’s truck thinking he was going to get a ride home. Cruz, according to an affidavit filed by a National Park Service special agent, said he drove off to get Coberley away from visitors at a nearby guest ranch and to transport him toward responding law enforcement officers.

During the ride, Coberley first broke the ranger’s windshield with a firefighting tool he grabbed from the truck bed and then shattered the back window with a Pulaski ax, according to the affidavit. Then he climbed through the back window into the rear passenger seat and put Cruz into a chokehold while the ranger was still driving the truck.

As Cruz fought him off, Coberley swung the ax at the ranger, who was able to fend it off while suffering only a minor laceration, the affidavit said. Cruz stopped the truck and got out and was able to calm Coberley down. The affidavit said he drove Coberley home knowing that law enforcement would eventually be able to arrest him there, which they did.

At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Coberley apologized and attributed his behavior to his drinking. He said he has since enrolled in an Alcoholics Anonymous program while in custody.

“I feel good about being sober,” Coberley told U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez.

Mendez told Coberly that the night of his attack on the ranger, “You could have killed him.” The judge told Coberley he remained “concerned about you going forward,” and imposed a condition on the defendant’s three-year probation that he abstain from alcohol.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo