Joel Taplin pleads no contest to lesser charges, leaves state

Sentencing for fatal accident to take place in two months

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2000

Accused hit-and-run driver Joel W. Taplin was expected to head home to his family in Massachusetts this afternoon.

Following a brief hearing Tuesday afternoon, Taplin came back to Juneau Superior Court this morning to plead no contest to charges stemming from the death of an Auke Bay biologist.

Taplin earlier pleaded innocent to a manslaughter charge alleging he recklessly caused the death of Harry Richard Carlson by running his car into the pedestrian on Back Loop Road on July 21.

This morning, Taplin entered his plea before Judge Patricia Collins. The charges, amended since Tuesday, are:

Breach of duty as a vehicle operator to stop immediately after an accident - a felony.

Operating a vehicle while intoxicated - a misdemeanor, since this is Taplin's first offense.

``The agreement is that he will enter a no contest to these charges in exchange for the manslaughter charge being dismissed,'' said District Attorney Rick Svobodny.

The agreement had been in the works for the past 10 days, and was still being amended by the hand of defense attorney Louis Menendez just before Collins went on the record.

Collins reminded Taplin, 27, that by entering a no contest plea he gives up his right to a trial.

The judge also stated the potential penalties Taplin faces. For the felony hit-and-run charge, the maximum penalty is 10 years in jail, license revocation for 30 days and a $10,000 fine. For the misdemeanor DWI, the minimum sentence for a first offense is no less than 72 hours in jail, a fine of not less than $250, no less than 90 days

revocation of license, a $75 surcharge and a mandatory referral to an educational alcohol rehabilitation program.

Collins scheduled sentencing for May 11.

The judge also agreed to change Taplin's conditions of release. ``The state has agreed to allow him to leave Juneau and reside in the custody of his parents and brother,'' she said.

Conditions of the release include 24-hour sight-and-sound custody, a curfew and posting of $50,000 bail. Taplin will not be allowed to drive, drink alcohol or be in a residence where there is alcohol or a place where it is sold or served.

Collins reminded Taplin that he had signed a waiver of extradition. She said if he violates any conditions of his release, he can be returned to Alaska against his will.

Upon suggestions by Svobodny, Collins agreed that the bail would serve both as an appearance bond - guaranteeing Taplin's personal presence at future court dates - and as a performance bond hanging on ``each and every condition.''

Taplin replied calmly to all Collins' questions. Joking and smiling with Menendez, Taplin looked relaxed. He was scheduled to leave Juneau on a 2 p.m. flight - without his wallet, which is still among evidence stored in Ketchikan from his January trial, which ended in a hung jury. Taplin has been in custody - in prison, a half-way house and a private home - for seven and a half months.

F. Lachicotte Zemp, attorney for the Carlson family, protested that he had not seen the agreement or the conditions.

``The Carlson family objects to Mr. Taplin's leaving Juneau,'' Zemp said. ``It would serve as an irony that a person guilty of charges would be permitted to leave, when, as an innocent person, he was not allowed to leave the city or state.''

Collins reminded Zemp that a no-contest plea is ``acceptance of responsibility,'' not an admission of guilt.

Collins released Taplin to the custody of his parents, Ellen and Bill Taplin of Newburyport, Mass., and his brother Todd, employed in Boston.

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