Taplin slated to alter plea

Change would prevent second trial in hit-and-run case

Posted: Tuesday, March 07, 2000

Accused hit-and-run driver Joel Taplin was scheduled to change his plea to criminal charges this afternoon in Juneau Superior Court.

Taplin, who previously pled innocent to a manslaughter charge, was to plead out to driving while intoxicated and felony hit and run, said District Attorney Rick Svobodny.

Taplin's first trial ended on Jan. 28 in Ketchikan with a hung jury. A second trial was scheduled for May. The change of plea would mean the second trial would not take place, and ``the court would decide about sentencing,'' Svobodny said.

Calls to Taplin's attorneys this morning were not returned by the Empire's midday deadline. The change-of-plea hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., after the deadline.

Taplin, a teacher from New England, visited Juneau last summer to attend a writing course at the University of Alaska Southeast. On the afternoon of July 21, he was driving on Back Loop Road when he glanced off the rear bumper of a parked truck and then struck its owner, Auke Bay biologist Harry Richard Carlson, police said.

When Carlson died of his injuries, Taplin was charged with manslaughter.

Although a test conducted at the scene showed Taplin had a blood-alcohol level of 0.142 percent,

above the legal limit, Taplin denied drinking, police said. His attorneys later admitted he was drinking, but said he was still able to drive safely.

Because of extensive coverage of the case, Taplin's attorneys, Thomas Nave and Louis Menendez, argued he could not get a fair trial in Juneau, and had the venue changed to Ketchikan.

At the Ketchikan trial, the state argued Taplin was driving recklessly, using a vehicle he knew to be unsafe, and that he fled the scene.

The defense countered that Taplin, 27, drove off after hitting Carlson because he was in a state of shock, and because he could not find a suitable place to park.

Nave and Menendez also attempted to prove that Carlson was walking across the road when hit, and that he had ``put himself in harm's way.''

On Feb. 4, Taplin was released to a third-party custodian after posting $50,000 cash bail. Custodian Janet Lee Dillman, a free-lance writer and photographer, declined to comment this morning.

Calls to the Newburyport, Mass., residence of William Taplin, Taplin's father, went unanswered. Victor Tine, city editor of the Newburyport Daily News, said the family has also declined to return his newspaper's phone messages.

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