Having served only 74 days for running over an Anchorage cyclist and leaving him to die, 19-year-old Alexandra Ellis quietly left an Alaska jail more than a month ago, according to the Alaska Department of Corrections.
No media release was issued. The mainstream media which had intently followed her case earlier this year missed the departure.
In May, Ellis was sentenced to a year in prison with two years probation after pleading guilty to a charge of negligent homicide that stemmed from her killing Jeff Dusenbury after a night of drunken, teenage partying in 2014.
But after a plea deal with prosecutors, the daughter of a well-connected Anchorage attorney was allowed to count 252 days spent in a substance abuse program in Eagle River and 26 days in “crisis evaluation” at Providence Hospital as part of her sentence.
That coupled with time off for good behavior cut her actual stay in jail to less than the 90 days 46-year-od Valka T. Nickolie of Aniak is serving for jumping on someone else’s four-wheeler while drunk and driving it around the Western Alaska village.
People have spent far more time in jail for killing bears than Ellis did for killing a cyclist. Notorious Alaska big-game guide Ron Hayes spent two years in jail after he was convicted of using airplanes to hunt grizzlies.
Ellis’s original, one-year sentence was handed down after Anchorage attorney William Ingaldson, in a nifty bit of victim-blaming, hired an expert witness to suggest that the accident that killed Dusenbury was actually the fault of the 51-year-old family man. Jay Smith testified the cyclist was traveling at a high rate of speed – 30 to 35 mph – and ran into the side of Ellis’s truck in the mid-morning of July 19, 2014.
No cyclists were ever called to testify to the likelihood of Dusenbery hitting such speeds on a short stretch of Anchorage’s 84th Avenue, a relatively flat road with potholes and bad pavement. Dusenbery was an enthusiastic cyclist, but not a particularly fast one. And Smith’s knowledge of cycling was questionable.
He bills himself as a specialist “in The Mechanical Engineering side of Automotive Accident Reconstruction, Fire investigation and Failure analysis….Automotive accident analysis includes Energy and Momentum analysis for speed at impact and ultimately speed change (delta-v) of the occupants of the vehicle. When this information is added to the Principal Direction Of Force (PDOF) the accident can be related to other accidents by the severity of impact. My background in automotive engineering and failure analysis allows me to identify the cause of component failure and helps identify if an automotive part failed before or during an impact.”
Smith testified that he based his speed calculations on what he’d read. Cyclists who’ve ridden the route where the accident happened say they doubt anyone could hit 30 mph there, and that even 20 mph would be a stretch.
An eye-witness to the 10 a.m. accident said Ellis backed over Dusenbury with her truck, came to a stop after her truck slammed into and uprooted a wooden post marking the boundary of Spruce Park, a neighborhood green area, then drove forward past a dying Dusenbury and fled the scene.
No mention was made of Dusenbury’s speed prior to the collision, and a cyclist doing even 15 mph would appear to most witnesses to be flying.
The Ellis sentence left Anchorage cyclists angry and frustrated. Nearly 4,000 people signed a petition pleading with then Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards to kill the plea deal. He didn’t. It stood at a year.
Even that – only a fraction of which Ellis served – seemed like little more than a slap on the wrist to Melissa DeVaugh, the managing editor of Anchorage’s “Coast” magazine, who wrote that when “District Attorney Clint Campion and defense attorney William Ingaldson announced a plea deal giving Ellis a net-one-year prison sentence for pleading guilty to DUI and criminally negligent homicide for Jeff ’s death…I didn’t believe it, nor did Jeff ’s wife, Melissa Holder, who didn’t even know of the arrangement until moments before it was announced.
“I could not fathom how such a slap-on-the-wrist could even be considered. How can running over someone while impaired by alcohol and then driving away and leaving him to die warrant such a lenient sentence? Is our justice system this screwed up? This is wrong on so many levels that I’m not sure where to start….”
Clarification: This story was edited on Aug. 18, 2016 to include the exact date of the incident.