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Charges: Driver in deadly Atka van crash was over twice the legal alcohol limit

  • Author: Chris Klint
  • Updated: July 8, 2016
  • Published June 21, 2016

The driver facing three manslaughter counts in last week's deadly Atka van crash had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system at the time, according to charging documents in the case.

Alaska State Troopers announced Monday that Sonny Iloilo, 28, is charged in the June 14 deaths of Ray McCullough Jr., 43, Mike Tunohun Jr., 51, and Paul Nicholas Nesbit, 57. Troopers said the men died after a van driven by Iloilo crashed while carrying nine passengers from the Atka Pride Seafoods plant to dinner in the Aleutian Islands town of about 60 people.

Iloilo, an Anchorage resident, is charged with six counts of assault and one count of DUI in addition to the manslaughter charges. He and five of the six surviving passengers — Jacob Bernet, 32, of Anchorage; Jesus Hernandez, 66, of California; Steven Nyberg, 48; Loelu Siatuu, 26, of Anchorage; and Boulay Vilavong, 54, of Anchorage — were flown to Anchorage for medical care.

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said in an email Tuesday morning that Iloilo has not yet been arrested on the charges announced Monday.

"He is not in custody," Peters wrote. "A warrant has been issued."

According to a criminal complaint against Iloilo written by trooper David Eastwood-Koleszar, troopers were first alerted to the crash at about 8 p.m. June 14 by Village Public Safety Officer William Dushkin. Investigators weren't immediately able to reach Atka, but Dushkin conducted an interview with Iloilo prior to their arrival.

"VPSO Dushkin stated that in his interview with Sonny, he stated that he was the driver of the vehicle and that he had consumed two beers and four shots before driving the vehicle," Eastwood-Koleszar wrote.

Dushkin told troopers that Iloilo provided a breath sample with a breath alcohol content of .185. Alaska's legal limit for DUI is .08.

Earlier flights carrying troopers to Atka had been blocked by weather, but investigators were able to reach the island community Thursday morning.

A witness to the events just before the crash, Toni Tuga, told troopers that Iloilo had arrived at the fish plant with "a strong odor of alcohol" on him to drive people to dinner, according to the complaint. As the other passengers boarded, Iloilo offered Tuga a ride, but she declined because she had to make a phone call.

"Sonny told her OK and left with (the other passengers) at a high rate of speed causing a cloud of dust on the dirt road," Eastwood-Koleszar wrote. "Toni stated Sonny had a habit of speeding. Toni stated the crash happened immediately after (they) departed."

The crash occurred on a straight stretch of Atxax Way with a posted speed limit of 20 mph where the van had left the right side of the road headed northwest, the complaint says. Nobody in the van had been wearing seat belts.

"The driver then attempted to get back on the roadway, overcorrected the steering and as a result the vehicle rolled multiple times and also caused the front of the vehicle (to spin) approximately 180 degrees," Eastwood-Koleszar wrote.

Dushkin had initially reported at least one person dead at the scene of the crash as of 6 p.m. June 14, with McCullough, Nesbit and Tunohun all succumbing to their injuries by 8 p.m. that evening. An autopsy by the State Medical Examiner Office later found that all three men had suffered head or chest trauma in the crash.

One survivor of the crash, 31-year-old Unalaska resident Jonathan Merculieff, initially declined medical treatment; he later told troopers he was traveling to Anchorage for treatment of broken ribs from the crash. The others were flown to Adak, where they were transferred to a Coast Guard plane that took them to Anchorage on Wednesday morning.

Ellen Krsnak, a spokeswoman for Atka Pride Seafoods operator Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, said grief counselors had traveled last week to Atka, where the seafood plant employs about 15 people. A counselor had also visited Anchorage to speak with company employees based there, as well as the survivors and their families.

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