The driver in a van crash that left two people dead July 4, 2016 was arraigned Tuesday. 24-year-old Chris Allen is facing murder and manslaughter charges. Prosecutors filed a new charge against Allen, alleging he lied on applications for a driver’s license by not disclosing a history of past seizures. Charging documents say a seizure caused the wreck.
It was a nearly full courtroom with family, friends and co-workers of both the defendant and the victims. Chris Allen was in custody and took part in the hearing on the phone from Fairbanks.
On the same day of the arraignment, assistant attorney general Adrienne Bachman filed a new charge against him, a misdemeanor charge of unsworn falsification in the second degree. A court document explaining the allegation says Allen suffered from a “well-documented seizure disorder dating back to at least November 1, 2011.” Alaska State Troopers collected evidence in the case. The state alleges Allen had seizures in Idaho, multiple times in Petersburg and was on anti-seizure medication. The charging document alleges some of the seizures happened while Allen was working for the Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department. It also alleges supervisors there adopted a plan to have a second employee with him at all times, doctors told him he should not be driving and a doctor also contacted Allen’s supervisor at work to warn that he should not drive. That was a little over three months before the crash.
Allen was driving a Parks and Rec van on July 4th with three other employees. The charging document says his seizure “began while driving through downtown Petersburg. He stared straight forward and did not respond to passengers who were yelling at him to slow down. His eventual speed was estimated at 52 mph in a 30 mph zone. Allen was headed toward a cement retaining wall with his hands still gripping the wheel when he suddenly slumped over into the passenger area. The van veered sharply to the right, vaulting over a guardrail and crashing upside down into an embankment. The two back seat passengers were killed but the front seat passenger was propelled into the wheel well space below the front dashboard. The upper half of the van was crushed to the bottom of the window openings.”
Molly Parks and Marie Giesbrecht were killed in the crash, while another passenger Catherine Cardenas was injured. The four were preparing to help with the community’s Independence Day celebration.
Allen had already been indicted on two charges of murder in the second degree, two manslaughter charges and one charge of assault. He entered not guilty pleas on all six.
The assistant attorney general Bachman requested bail be kept at the initial amount of $50,000.
“50,000 dollars and a court approved third party custodian is appropriate,” Bachman. “Mr. Allen has ties to Alaska, he has parents and a wife. But given the gravity of the offense and some of the history that’s documented in the probable cause statement with the filing today, I think substantial monetary bail and a court approved monitor for Mr. Allen is appropriate.”
Allen testified he has been on worker’s compensation since the wreck and based on his finances he was appointed a public defender. Assistant public defender Jay Hochberg asked for lower bail amount.
“The fact is he’s been at liberty for well over a year,” Hochberg said, “he’s not any more dangerous today then he was a month ago or six months ago. Yes the charges are serious and yes he will face them. But 50,000 is an astonishing amount of money that no reasonable person can afford. You’d have to be quite wealthy to even come close to that.”
Hochberg said Allen and his wife been living with his parents in Fairbanks since the crash. He also noted the community support on display for the defendant in the courtroom.
Allen’s father Perry testified that the family and his son had cooperated with the investigation of the local police and Alaska State Troopers.
Superior court judge William Carey was not swayed and agreed on the bail amount of $50,000.
“I’m supposed to consider the nature and circumstances of the offense charged,” Carey explained. “The circumstances are certainly tragic and serious. I think the addition of the misdemeanor charge in this case today gives the court a better picture of what happened here. Frankly I wasn’t quite sure.”
Carey explained he’s also required to consider the evidence in the case in determining the bail amount.
“There’s considerable evidence,” the judge said. “We essentially know what happened on July 4th of last year as far as the end result, if not all the explanation of it. But again, the filing of the misdemeanor count today does fill a lot of the blanks about that. I think that if anything that just gives the court more reason for being concerned.”
Carey required half of the bail would be posted to ensure Allen appears in court and half to ensure he meets other requirements, including not driving or drinking alcohol, staying on his anti-seizure medication and having a third-party custodian approved by the court.
The bail set will be reviewed again in a review scheduled for August 1st. No trial date has been set but that could be scheduled at another hearing August 24th.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to eliminate use of the word “accident” to reflect the Associated Press stylebook, the generally accepted guidelines used by most news outlets. The AP recommends “when negligence is claimed or proven, avoid accident, which can be read by some as a term exonerating the person responsible. In such cases, use crash, collision or other terms.”