Crime & Courts

Prosecutor: Teen used drugs, alcohol before hit-and-run collision that killed cyclist

An Anchorage 18-year-old charged in the hit-and-run death of a well-known bicyclist used drugs and drank alcohol into the early hours of July 18, 2014, the morning of the fatal accident, according to the state's sentencing memorandum.

Alexandra Ellis' parents made their daughter take a urinalysis test before they left for the weekend, as she'd completed residential substance abuse treatment two months earlier. Ellis, then 17, was left in the care of her grandmother but sneaked out and invited friends over to her parents' empty home, the memorandum says.

"Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and MDMA were present at the party," prosecutors wrote.

Around 10 in the morning, Ellis was awake and decided to drive a friend home, less than a quarter-mile from her parents' house. After dropping off the friend on East 84th Avenue, which dead-ends at a park, Ellis drove in reverse down the street instead of turning around on Sandy Place, a nearby residential road, the memorandum says.

That's when Ellis backed into cyclist Jeff Dusenbury, killing him. She pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and DUI in May.

Ellis' sentencing is set for Friday. Despite the defense's arguments that her case should go to juvenile court, an Anchorage Superior Court judge has decided to move forward with the case.

The plea agreement calls for a sentence of one year in jail with another two years suspended.

The state outlines the crash in the memorandum, offering more details than previously known. After striking Dusenbury, Ellis continued reversing for 40 more feet, the document says. A homeowner who witnessed the collision tried to wave Ellis down, but her pleas were ignored, it says.

When police arrived at Ellis' doorstep at 10:30 a.m., she told the officers she knew why they were there.

"I don't know what else to say besides please arrest me," Ellis is quoted as saying.

"She told the officers she had been drinking until approximately 3 a.m. and she had 'Molly' the night before," the memorandum says. Molly, or MDMA, is a drug similar to ecstasy.

Officers told Ellis the person she hit with her truck died, the memorandum says.

"I killed someone … I killed someone … I killed someone? I can't believe he passed away. I am going to jail … I am going to go to hell. I can't believe I killed him," she is quoted as saying.

A blood sample taken from Ellis at 12:51 p.m. that day returned a .10 blood alcohol content, according to the state. The sample was sent to a lab in Washington state, which determined there was evidence of marijuana but no other drugs present in the blood.

The state's memorandum says a toxicology report on Dusenbury found active THC, the chemical responsible for pot's effects, in his system as well.

Defense attorneys' pre-sentence report, according to the state, puts some of the blame on the victim. The report says Dusenbury was riding his bicycle at a high rate of speed, it's highly likely he was riding in the middle of the street, and he was using earbuds.

Prosecutors argue those details should be removed from the report.

The defense's sentencing memorandum was not filed as of Wednesday morning.

District Attorney Clint Campion wrote in the sentencing memorandum that Ellis faces a presumptive sentencing range of one to three years as a first-time felony offender. The presumptive range is the jail time defendants similarly charged would generally receive.

Campion listed several cases in which defendants were charged with criminally negligent homicide and got one to seven years in prison.

"The court should adopt the sentencing agreement because it satisfies Alaska's constitutional and statutory sentencing factors," Campion wrote. He said Ellis already spent "several days" in jail but would be required to be confined for one year as an 18-year-old offender.

Ellis' lack of a criminal history is an important factor in determining her prospects for rehabilitation, Campion said, though he admitted she's had drug problems since she was 15.

The prosecutor said the plea agreement would deter others from driving under the influence. If the court refers Ellis to juvenile court, community condemnation could be stifled, Campion said.

The family of Dusenbury opposes the plea deal.

During a procedural hearing Aug. 7, Dusenbury's wife, Melissa Holder, said the family would have preferred the case have a jury trial. Any reasonable jury would have convicted Ellis of the state's original charges of manslaughter, DUI and failing to assist an injured person after an accident, she said.

"I still don't know why the hit-and-run was dropped to this day. To me, that was the intentional, undisputable act," Holder said.

The family's spokesperson Peter Van Tuyn said the defense's arguments that Dusenbury was partly responsible for his death "is wrong and reprehensible."

"If Ms. Ellis does not think she's at fault, she should have gone to trial. In fact, should the judge reject the plea, as we firmly believe he should do, this case may well go to trial. We say bring it on," Van Tuyn said.