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Driver in fatal 2009 crash admits probation violations

Thomas Tyler Emerson, 21, could face five years in prison

Posted: September 26, 2012 - 4:34pm  |  Updated: September 27, 2012 - 12:08am
Thomas Tyler Emerson, 21, walks into Juneau Superior Court for an adjudication hearing on Wednesday. Emerson admitted violating probation and agreed to be remanded back to jail pending a sentencing hearing.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Thomas Tyler Emerson, 21, walks into Juneau Superior Court for an adjudication hearing on Wednesday. Emerson admitted violating probation and agreed to be remanded back to jail pending a sentencing hearing.

A Juneau man involved in a fatal drunken driving accident in 2009 has been remanded back to jail.

Thomas Tyler Emerson, 21, admitted Wednesday he violated terms of probation by drinking and driving earlier this year. He agreed to be remanded pending an upcoming sentencing hearing.

Emerson made the admission during his adjudication hearing Wednesday in Juneau Superior Court before Judge Philip Pallenberg. Roughly 15 people, including family members and friends, attended the hearing to lend Emerson emotional support.

Now Emerson could be facing up to five years in jail from a previously suspended jail sentence. District Attorney David Brower said he was in negotiations with Emerson’s attorney, Jeffrey Sauer, to come up with an agreement. But the ultimate decision on how much jail time, if any, Emerson should serve is up to the judge.

Pallenberg accepted the admissions and scheduled a tentative sentencing date for Oct. 31.

Emerson was charged with violating probation when he was pulled over by police on June 21. Prosecutors said he was speeding on North Douglas Highway with two passengers in his vehicle, and that his blood alcohol content level was 0.049 percent, which is less than the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.

But prosecutors and Emerson’s probation officer expressed disbelief that Emerson was drinking at all. They described the incident as “eerily similar” to the factual circumstances surrounding the underlying 2009 case.

A few days after high school graduation, then 18-year-old Emerson was driving drunk with two passengers in his car. He lost control of the vehicle near Mile 37 of Glacier Highway, and Taylor Bristol White, a childhood friend who was also 18, was ejected from the car and died on scene. Emerson was also ejected from the car, but survived.

Emerson was charged with negligent criminal homicide, a felony, and he pleaded guilty as charged. He was sentenced in August 2010 to six years in prison with five years suspended.

He avoided serving any jail time by fulfilling his one year to serve in a halfway house and a stint on electronic monitoring. When he was released from custody in May 2011, he was ordered to be on probation for five years, during which he was prohibited from possessing or consuming alcohol.

Emerson’s probation officer Sara E. Dallas filed a petition to revoke Emerson’s probation on June 21, and she requested the court hold a hearing to determine if he was in fact in violation.

The state is required to show that Emerson was guilty of violating probation as alleged, but because Emerson offered admissions, that proved to be unnecessary.

Emerson specifically admitted to drinking three beers from 10:30 p.m. Wednesday to 12:30 a.m. the night of June 20 and the morning of June 21 before getting behind the wheel. He also admitted to possessing a bottle of Tequila and a flask in his car, both of which contained alcohol.

Emerson declined to comment after the hearing.

Emerson had been taken into custody after the June incident, but was released later that month under the supervision of a court-approved third-party custodian, Emerson’s father, Joseph Richie Emerson. He also was required to post $2,500 bail.

Pallenberg on Wednesday released Emerson’s father from his responsibilities as a third-party custodian and exonerated the bail amount, upon the remand.

He ordered the younger Emerson to report to Lemon Creek Correctional Center by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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