A 31-year-old mother of four died early Sunday after she was struck by a drunken driver as she waited on a sidewalk outside a Valdez bar for her friends, police say.
Prosecutors on Monday filed manslaughter and DUI charges against 46-year-old Ero Victor Walli, who is accused of killing Chellsie Ruby Marie Hoffman.
Witnesses told police that Walli's pickup struck Hoffman outside the Boardroom Bar and then, as she screamed, ran her over and stopped on top of her, court documents say.
Hoffman's death sent ripples of shock and grief through Valdez, where many people knew either her or the man accused of killing her. The bar is one of few left in town.
Walli worked as the director of marine operations for Crowley Maritime in Valdez. A Crowley spokesman said Walli has been terminated, and the company issued a statement:
"Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of Chellsie Ruby Marie Hoffman as a result of the tragic auto incident early Sunday in Valdez, Alaska. As a longtime part of the Valdez community, we at Crowley extend our thoughts and prayers to every family affected."
Florida-based Crowley has held the contract to provide oil-spill prevention and response in Valdez since 1990, the year after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but another company will provide the service starting in July.
A friend of Walli tried to talk him out of driving home from the bar just before 2:30 a.m., according to a sworn affidavit filed with charging documents at the Valdez courthouse.
Instead, witnesses told police, Walli climbed behind the wheel of his 2017 Dodge Ram pickup, the charges say.
A friend of Hoffman's told police they were out for a "girls' night" and Hoffman was waiting for the rest of the group to come out of the bar when, "out of nowhere," Walli accelerated out of the parking lot, according to the affidavit filed by Valdez police Sgt. Chad Clements.
Hoffman tried to move around the pickup but Walli hit her and stopped, Clements wrote. Her friend watched, she told police, as Hoffman "started screaming and threw her bag at the truck."
Walli then "drove on top" of her and stopped the pickup again, the affidavit states. Then he fled at high speed north on Chitina Drive.
Two Valdez officers arrived and started trying to save Hoffman, police said. She was taken to Providence Valdez Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 3:20 a.m.
Three officers found Walli at home on Falcon Avenue after locating the pickup outside, the charges say. The vehicle was still warm to the touch. Police found marks and scratches on the pickup, as well as a cracked bumper, Clements wrote.
At first, Walli didn't respond to their knocks on the doors and windows.
At about 4:25 a.m., Walli let them in but said he hadn't been out that night, hadn't been drinking and hadn't been at the Boardroom, according to the affidavit. Police noticed truck keys sitting on the counter. Walli then admitted he had gone to the bar, but said he drank only two beers, the charges say.
He failed field sobriety tests in his home, the document says.
Officers, who by then had learned that Hoffman had died from her injuries, arrested Walli for manslaughter.
Police took Walli to Valdez jail, where he provided a breath sample at 5:15 a.m. — almost three hours after the incident — that registered a .305 breath-alcohol level, police say. That's more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 for driving in Alaska.
Walli was also arrested on charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. Police later added a weapons misconduct charge — possession of a firearm when impaired by alcohol — when they found a Ruger pistol in the center console of his truck, fully loaded with a round in the chamber, according to the affidavit.
At a court appearance Monday morning, Walli answered the judge's questions but didn't say anything else, according to Valdez City Clerk Sheri Pierce, who attended the proceedings.
The courtroom was standing-room only, with about 50 people inside and more in the hallway, Pierce said.
During the hearing, the judge asked Hoffman's husband, Kyle, if he wanted to say anything, Pierce said. "But he was unable to do that."
The judge set bail at $75,000 cash/corporate — meaning it can be obtained with help from a bail bondsman — plus a $25,000 cash performance bond, according to Pierce.
Conditions of his release include electronic monitoring by the Valdez Police Department on house arrest until his next hearing later this month, no alcohol, no contact with witnesses, no driving and supervision by the state's Pretrial Enforcement Division.
At the Klondike Coffee shop in Valdez, owner Jordan Rose Quade decided to donate Monday's sales to Hoffman's husband and four children ranging from 3 to about 11 years old.
Klondike Coffee brought in about $4,000 by mid-afternoon. People bought drinks — then donated more on top of that. On a website called mealtrain.com, dozens of people volunteered to bring the family dinner each night, every night, for the next several weeks.
Along with describing the menu they planned to bring, some penned short notes of condolences — "I love you guys" — or offered to cook up "kiddos' choice" for dinner.
Quade met Hoffman about three years ago when the coffee shop owner moved to Valdez. Hoffman babysat her son and other local children, Quade said.
Her friend was happy, she said, contagiously so.
"She's giving, she's really generous," Quade said. "She is always there for anybody who needed it."
A former coworker of Walli's at Crowley said he was stunned to hear the news.
Walli, part of a family that spent years with Crowley in Valdez, was a "salt of the earth kind of guy" who doted on his children, said Carl Jones, a former Crowley engineer who worked with Walli on and off for about 15 years.
"This is definitely not somebody that has a habit of any kind of negative behavior," Jones said.
Walli's criminal record includes two convictions for driving under the influence following no contest pleas at the Homer courthouse in 1989 and 2004, according to a state courts database.
Walli and his wife ended their marriage last year, court records show. The couple has three children.
Asked whether his friend had a problem with alcohol, Jones said the arrests tracked with Walli's younger life in the fishing industry.
"I know for many years he didn't drink at all," he said.