‘A guilty mind’: Sitka woman gets 4 years in cyclist’s hit-and-run death

Brooke Mulligan
Brooke Mulligan (right) confers with her attorney, Lisa Rosano, during her sentencing in Sitka Superior Court on March 14, 2023. (Robert Woolsey/KCAW)

A Sitka woman has been sentenced to four years in prison for hitting and killing a bicyclist with her car just over two years ago.

Brooke Mulligan, 21, pleaded guilty in August to criminally negligent homicide in the death of 20-year-old Terry Carlson, Jr. At her Tuesday sentencing, the court suggested that her actions at the time of the incident were, at best, approaching the more serious charge of manslaughter, and at worst were inhumane.

The short version of the story is grim: Mulligan, then 19 and possibly coming off a methamphetamine high from the previous evening, drove down Halibut Point Road at 6 a.m. on March 8, 2021, swerved across the centerline and hit Carlson head-on with her Jeep. Without stopping or getting out to check on Carlson, she turned around and drove to her father’s house where she attempted to conceal incriminating evidence.

The collision was witnessed by other motorists. Police located Mulligan about an hour later, and she denied involvement. Carlson’s injuries were so traumatic he could not be medevaced to a larger hospital, and he soon died at Mount Edgecumbe Medical Center surrounded by shocked and grieving family.

The long story won’t be told in criminal court, as Mulligan’s change of plea last last year averted a lengthy trial. During Mulligan’s sentencing, many of Carlson’s family spoke, painting a portrait of him through their grief – none more powerfully than his older brother Tyler Carlson.

“I’ve had so much anger built up towards you and your family,” Tyler Carlson said. “I wanted you to suffer. I wanted you to be left alone for dead like you did to Terry. It took a long time for me to get past that feeling. But deep down, I know it’s not what Terry would want. It wasn’t who he was and would want me to be. All Terry ever wanted was to be loved and accepted. And that built in him giving heart. He always wanted those around him to be happy. He’s not vengeful or spiteful. And though every part of me wants to be, I choose not to be and honor him in that way.”

In the aftermath of the incident, Mulligan was arrested, arraigned and jailed on $500,000 bail. Her mother posted bail six months later, and Mulligan has been under her third-party guardianship since then – which, in a small town, only fueled resentment toward her.

By pleading guilty, Mulligan finally admitted to the crime. During sentencing, she offered what apology she could for conduct that many would consider unforgivable.

“I understand that saying sorry doesn’t even begin to cut it,” she said. “And there’s nothing I can say or do to make up for what I’ve done. I realize that I cannot change your perception of me or the feelings you may have for me. What I did was wrong and unforgivable. But it’s important to me that you know my truth. I’m only 21 years old. And at the time of this tragedy, I was only 19. Unfortunately, at the time, I was a chronic drug user and at the peak of my addiction. I was in a very dark place. I had tried to go to rehab before to seek help. But my addiction was too strong and it had consumed me. I can tell you, I’m not proud of the person I was or the decisions I made. I wish that I was able to pull myself out of my addiction before I drastically and permanently altered all of our lives. And especially Terry’s life.”

Mulligan agreed to a plea deal that will have her serve eight years with five suspended for criminally negligent homicide, five years with four suspended for leaving the scene of an accident and failing to render aid. She’ll serve the terms consecutively, for a total of four years, with one day off for every two days of good behavior. After getting out of prison, she’ll be on probation for eight years.

Assistant District Attorney Amy Fenske explained that this was the high end of the punishment for the charges, although she acknowledged that many would think it insufficient – possibly herself included.

“In Alaska, you just don’t leave people,” she said, referring to Mulligan’s flight from the scene.

Superior Court Judge Jude Pate also wanted to hold Mulligan to account. Had the case gone to trial, he would have had a hard time accepting the argument that she was out of her head when she struck Carlson. He said her immediate attempts to flee and dispose of incriminating evidence – and her refusal to speak with police when they arrived at her father’s house – indicated “a guilty mind.” He said that the type of criminally negligent homicide Mulligan admitted to “was actually closer to manslaughter, which is a more serious type of crime.” 

Pate also described the scope of the loss, not just for Carlson’s family, but for everyone.

“And she took from Sitka, by all accounts, a happy, healthy, joyous person – a young man,” Pate said. “He wasn’t perfect. But he was vibrant and best I could tell, he grew up being an important part of the Sitka community.”

Pate said the crime had a “sinister ripple effect,” and had produced not just a distrust of the criminal justice system, but lasting harm to the members of Carlson’s family, who have attended hearing after hearing the last two years, seeking justice for their son, grandson, brother, and cousin.

“This act – this killing – has ripped the fabric of Sitka’s community in the most deep and harmful way,” Pate said. “And it will take years for it to mend, if it ever does.”

Pate denied Mulligan’s request to fly to Anchorage with her mother the following morning to enter the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. Instead, she was remanded into the custody of a Department of Corrections officer on the spot, handcuffed and taken to the Sitka jail to await transport.

A civil lawsuit against Mulligan filed by the estate of Terry Carlson, Jr. is pending. Additionally her father, 72-year-old Richard Mulligan, is awaiting trial in June on one felony count of tampering with physical evidence.

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