High-speed crash kills new graduate

18-year-old male driver medevaced to Seattle

Posted: Sunday, June 07, 2009

An after-graduation party ended in tragedy early Friday morning when a suspected alcohol-related car crash killed an 18-year-old man - days after he received his high school diploma.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Taylor White died early Friday morning near Mile 37 Glacier Highway after the 1999 Audi he was in left the road and struck multiple trees. He was ejected.

The driver, 18-year-old Tyler Emerson, also was ejected. He was medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he was in stable condition as of Friday afternoon. A 17-year-old female passenger, who is not being identified because she is a minor, was wearing a seatbelt in the front passenger seat and was treated for "minor injuries" at Bartlett Regional Hospital. She was released to her parents, according to the Juneau Police Department. Neither White nor Emerson were wearing seatbelts, said police spokesman Sgt. Dave Campbell.

At the scene Friday afternoon, shattered window glass, fractured speaker covers and broken reflectors littered the woods. The smell of oil lingered. The accident scene is more than 600 feet long and the vehicle came to rest some 30 to 35 feet off the road after striking multiple trees and completely sheering off a Sitka spruce roughly 2 feet across.

"We were told by the 17-year-old female that the last she looked at the speedometer it was in excess of 80 mph," Campbell said.

All three occupants are believed to have been consuming alcohol, Campbell said.

"Every time that something like this happens it's a tragedy," he said. "Just based on my experience, it does seem like every handful of years we end up having a traffic related type death in close proximity to graduation."

All three graduated Tuesday night from Juneau-Douglas High School. White, coincidentally, was featured on a front page photo in Wednesday's Juneau Empire wearing his cap and gown.

White was planning to attend Montana State University in Bozeman this fall. His parents could not be reached for comment Friday.

The accident happened sometime after 2 a.m. as Emerson drove toward town from a graduation party out the road. The 17-year-old female walked away from the scene and told campers she knew were nearby about the accident, Campbell said. She got a ride toward town and called 911 around the same time, coming across police officers dealing with an unrelated drunk driving traffic stop out the road, he said.

Pursuant to state laws, a blood sample was taken from Emerson to determine if he had been driving under the influence. Campbell said police are seeking a search warrant to examine it. The Juneau District Attorney's office will determine if charges will be filed.

The road was closed for several hours after the accident. Investigators were back on the scene around 1 p.m. Friday trying to determine the actual speed the vehicle was traveling.

Though most of the car had penetrated the tree line, "The impact with the trees was great enough where the engine of the car was found on the road," Campbell said.

Friday's crash was Juneau's third motor vehicle fatality this year. MaryGrace Needham, 31, died Jan. 31 near 15.5 Mile Glacier Highway after losing control of her car and crossing into the path of a sport utility vehicle. Five-year-old Haylee Greenbank died Feb. 14 in Seattle from injuries sustained in a two-vehicle accident that occurred in the 5100 block of North Douglas Highway on Feb. 3.

Campbell said he hopes Friday's tragedy will serve as a reminder.

"I would like to remind people just to be safe, to wear their seatbelts, to not drive at extreme speeds, not driving after consuming alcohol, (and) to not get in vehicles with people that have been consuming alcohol," he said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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