Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Point of No Return: The Case of Peter Bergna

Loving Couple

Peter and Rinette
Peter and Rinette

Peter and Rinette had been married eleven years. At the time of the accident, he was 45 and she had been 49. She had just switched careers from being a successful pharmacist and president of the Nevada Pharmacy Association to exploring the world of an international tour guide. Peter was a respected antiques appraiser for the San Francisco-based auction firm, Butterfield & Butterfield, making a six-figure income. He also volunteered to coach the school athletic teams and was reportedly quite generous. Those who knew this couple well believed they had an enviable relationship. Both were successful at what they did and they had made a home in the beautiful, upscale Incline Village, with its exclusive golf courses and private beaches. The accident seemed deeply tragic to everyone acquainted with them. Poor Rinette, they learned, had been so mangled that the medical examiner could not even determine a cause of death.

He did note, according to Fleeman, that she had thirteen broken ribs, a broken kneecap and wrist, and blood filling her chest cavity. She also had bleeding to the brain and a broken neck. She had sustained a great deal of multiple force blunt trauma and one could only hope that she had lost consciousness quickly. Due to the severity and number of her injuries, there was no way to tell if she had been killed prior to the crash and then sent over the edge.

Rinette Riella-Bergna
Rinette Riella-Bergna

The other part of the initial investigation was to learn more about Peter and to examine the truck. Peter, it turned out, had lied about the fact that he did not see other women. In fact, while his wife was gone, he had asked a colleague to set him up with a mutual acquaintance who attracted him. He had also asked another woman on a date. Neither had responded to him, but not for his lack of trying. Was he just looking for someone to take the chill off his loneliness or was he seeking his next potential wife? Clearly, the initial impression of the Bergnas as the ideal couple was a superficial assessment. In fact, Bergna tried these women again within a month after his wife's death, and there were also reports that he had been getting rid of his wife's personal effects. That struck some as a man who was not in true mourning.

Then there was the truck. A helicopter picked up the crumpled heap to take to a mechanic for analysis. Dewey Willie gave it a thorough going-over, but he found nothing mechanically wrong with it. With less than 24,000 miles on it, the Ford was — or had been - in pristine condition. Whatever had happened to send it over the edge had not been due to faulty brakes or steering. In fact, there was no significant history of brake problems for this model from the Ford Motor Company. For him, the cause of the accident remained a mystery.

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