Alaska News

Driver in fatal hit-and-run will serve 18 months in plea deal

The hit-and-run driver who killed a village man on Easter morning two years ago in Anchorage will serve 18 months in prison under a plea agreement approved Monday.

Superior Court Judge Jack Smith accepted the deal after rejecting an earlier proposal that would have allowed 20-year-old Ashley Nichole Bashore to serve just one year for leaving the man to die after striking him with her SUV.

"OMG OMG OMG," Bashore texted on her iPhone shortly after the collision, prosecutors say. Bashore tried to explain the damage to her Hyundai Sante Fe by telling a friend she had "hit a mangy Rottweiler without a collar," according to court filings.

The family of 28-year-old victim Hubert Tunuchuk filled the first two rows of the courtroom gallery. His mother, Godelieve Tunuchuk, listened to the judge's remarks translated quietly into Yup'ik.

"(Hubert) used to hunt food for us, subsistence for us. Now I have nobody to hunt for me and my family," she said later.

Family members said they were disappointed by the sentencing. Godelieve had hoped to see Bashore serve 10 years or more behind bars.

"When it happened, she mentioned she ran over a dog," Peter Tunuchuk, the victim's uncle, told the judge.


Chefornak is a community of about 400 people in Western Alaska. Tunuchuk was in Southcentral Alaska to study power plant operations at a vocational-technical school in Seward.

Court filings say he had been drinking and was walking in the road near a narrow sidewalk curb on the Tudor Road overpass above the Seward Highway when he was hit.

Bashore was 19 at the time.

Paperwork filed by prosecutors in 2011 said phone records revealed Bashore was "likely texting immediately before or at the time of the collision."

Whether Bashore was texting at the moment of the collision was "a contested issue," defense attorney Rex Butler said.

Under the agreement, Bashore admitted to taking her eyes off the road, the attorneys said Monday in court.

"Had she been attentive in her driving and focused on the road, she would have seen him before she struck him," prosecutor Rob Henderson said in an interview with the Daily News.

Bashore pleaded guilty to failing to help someone after an injury accident and criminally negligent homicide. A count of tampering with evidence -- she tried to erase incriminating texts after the collision -- was dismissed.

Bashore had no prior convictions, which lessened the length of her potential sentence, Butler said.

Prosecutors said the first count carried a presumptive sentence of 0 to 2 years in prison. For first-time felons, the count of criminally negligent homicide carried a potential sentence of 1 to 3 years, Henderson said.

Smith rejected the earlier agreement in October, saying one year wasn't enough jail time. He told Tunuchuk's family on Monday that he understood they might not be happy with the 18-month sentence but warned it wouldn't necessarily have increased if the case had gone to trial.

"There's very little more that (the attorneys) can do to change it because of the way the Legislature set up the sentencing guidelines," he said.

If the roles had been reversed and Hubert had struck someone while driving, he wouldn't have sped away, Godelieve wrote in a statement read in court by prosecutors. He would have stopped to help. He would have apologized and taken the victim to the hospital, his mother wrote.

"I want to yell at you, but I won't," Godelieve Tunuchuk wrote. "Instead, I'll pray for you."

Bashore leaned toward the gallery before the hearing began, apologizing to Tunuchuk's family. "I never meant to hurt anybody," she said.

When she gets out of prison, Bashore won't be allowed to own a cell phone capable of sending text messages without a probation officer's permission, according to the agreement.

She turns 21 years old Tuesday. Tunuchuk would have celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday.


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Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email