State DA will decide whether to charge Unalaska teen in fatal Ballyhoo crash case

Unalaska. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

The state District Attorney’s Office is considering whether to file criminal charges against the Unalaska teenager who was behind the wheel in May’s fatal car crash off Mount Ballyhoo.

Local police announced last month that they had sent the case to the state. But in the aftermath of a fatal plane crash and four drug overdoses, Interim Police Chief John Lucking couldn’t comment until this week. 

He said attorneys with the D.A.’s office are deciding if there’s enough evidence to prosecute Dustin Ruckman, 18, who suffered minor injuries in the crash that killed passengers Karly McDonald, 16, and Kiara Renteria Haist, 18.

“They’re the trained observers and understanders of law,” Lucking said. “They can compare the facts to the laws and establish whether there’s a clear path forward in consideration of a charge — or, inversely, if there’s just not enough facts and circumstances to support charging someone.”

Until prosecutors make that decision, Lucking declined to answer questions about specific pieces of the Department of Public Safety’s seven-month investigation — and what they may have revealed about what happened on the mountain.

Partnering with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), local police have interviewed “lots” of the three teens’ classmates and family members, as well as collected physical evidence, including pieces of the truck and toxicology samples.

“I’m not really at liberty to talk about a lot of the results relative to things like toxicology,” said Lucking. “Just like it takes the D.A.’s office to examine the law and then the facts and circumstances, it takes an expert to look at the toxicology [report] and be able to decipher and define what it means.”

“Just because, for instance, someone might have marijuana in their system doesn’t necessarily mean that the marijuana would have an effect on what their conduct was right at the time [of an incident],” he added. “So those are kind of expert questions that I can’t answer for you.”

Lucking said his point about marijuana was a hypothetical example.

Police have enlisted help from the FBI because they don’t often deal with such complex, emotional cases. But as a result, Lucking acknowledged that the inquiry has taken longer. 

“Part of the problem has been that the investigative partners are outside of our span of control,” he said. “We don’t have any authority over making the FBI produce reports — or responses to questions — in what we would consider maybe a more timely fashion.”

“We continue to encourage everybody to be as prompt as they can be, understanding that [the case] has a great effect on the community and we’re anxious to see where we’re going to go with it in the end,” he said.

Lucking said the D.A.’s office has made aware that the Ballyhoo crash case is a priority for Unalaska, and he expects a decision regarding charges “in the relatively near future.”

Ruckman has declined KUCB’s request for comment through his lawyer, David Mallet.

Laura Kraegel covers Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands for KUCB . Originally from Chicago, she first came to Alaska to work at KNOM, reporting on Nome and the Bering Strait Region. ( / 907.581.6700)

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