Taxi driver accused of punching passenger

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— A taxi driver faces a felony assault charge after he allegedly punched a passenger early in the morning on New Year's Day, breaking the passenger's nose.

William Wernig, 54, of Steamboat Springs is accused of assaulting 32-year-old Christopher Ray. Wernig is charged with second-degree assault, a class four felony.

According to court records, Ray suffered a broken nose, a cut on his left cheek and a swollen left eye in the incident.

Wernig and Ray apparently were arguing about Ray's former roommate when the incident occurred.

Routt County Judge James Garrecht advised Wernig of the charge Wednesday afternoon. Wernig's bond was set at $5,000.

Wernig has denied assaulting Ray.

Wernig picked up a group, which included Ray and two of his friends, in the 1800 block of Ski Time Square Drive at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, records show.

As Wernig made stops along the way to Ray and his friends' destination, in the 100 block of Huckleberry Lane, the four men started arguing about Ray's former roommate.

Wernig, who also works as a builder, told police he stuck up for Ray's former roommate, and that angered the men, who threatened not to give him a tip. Wernig said he knows Ray's roommate because the two worked various construction jobs together.

Once at the residence, Ray stayed in the taxi to pay for the fare. Ray told an officer at Yampa Valley Medical Center the fare totaled $18 and he was going to pay with a $20 bill.

An intoxicated Ray said Wernig became angry over the tip and pulled him out of the taxi and threw him to the ground, records show.

Ray claims Wernig then punched him numerous times in the face, records show.

Ray's friends told police they found him unconscious in the road and bleeding from his face, court records show.

At Yampa Valley Medical Center, Ray was treated for a closed-head injury, the broken nose and multiple cuts and facial bruises, said Christine McKelvie, a hospital spokeswoman. Ray was released from the hospital Tuesday morning.

Wernig was arrested at the taxi company where he works at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Wernig, who denies touching Ray, told an officer Ray and his two friends were $4 short for a $13 fare.

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