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Driver Indicted In Mt. Ballyhoo Crash That Claimed Lives of Two Unalaska Teens

Berett Wilber/KUCB

Updated 06/06/20 at 8:30 a.m.

Prosecutors have filed felony charges against the Unalaska teenager who was behind the wheel in last year's fatal car crash off Mount Ballyhoo.

An Anchorage grand jury indicted 19-year-old Dustin Ruckman on Friday for allegedly causing the deaths of passengers Karly McDonald, 16, and Kiara Renteria Haist, 18. 

Ruckman was indicted on two counts of manslaughter, two counts of criminally negligent homicide, and  one count of reckless driving. 

On May 9, 2019, McDonald and Renteria Haist died after Ruckman drove his Ford truck off the Ulakta Head cliff side of Unalaska's Mount Ballyhoo. The pickup plunged 900 feet down the mountain. Police said Ruckman claimed to have been thrown from the vehicle as it descended down a steep ravine with the two girls still inside.

The unsealed indictment does not offer evidence or answer basic questions over what led up to or caused the fatal crash.

If convicted, Ruckman faces a sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment for each of the manslaughter charges, up to 10 years for each of the criminally negligent homicide charges, and up to one year for the reckless driving charge, according to the state Attorney General's office.  

"An unimaginable tragedy happened a year ago," said Ruckman's attorney, David Mallet, in a statement. "It is human nature to want to find a cause and to blame. But often as not, we can never know what happened, and such is the case here. The assistant district attorney in charge of this case is smart and honest. I hold him in high regard but strongly disagree with the indictment in all respects. Hearts will be broken forever, but what happened was an accident."

Interim Police Chief John Lucking led Unalaska's nearly 13-month investigation with support from more than a dozen agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Lucking declined to answer questions over details of the Department of Public Safety's investigation — and what they may have revealed about what happened on the mountain.

Police and federal investigators interviewed classmates and family members of the teens, as well as collected physical evidence — including pieces of the truck, reconstructed the crash scene, and took toxicology samples from the driver.

Assistant District Attorney Nolan Oliver said the primary delay in bringing charges against Ruckman was that his office was waiting for a crash reconstruction to be completed.

"The person that was performing the crash reconstruction wanted some additional measurements from the scene, but those measurements weren't able to be attained while there was snow on the ground. We only received the finalized crash reconstruction several weeks ago," Oliver said.

Lucking said Ruckman's indictment is just the first step in the legal process.

"I'd like people to keep their minds open in that these are simply charges," he said. "This isn't a ruling of any kind of guilt. It is simply the first part, and the rest will be fleshed out as we move through the process."

Ruckman is scheduled to appear before the Superior Court in Unalaska on June 10. After his arraignment, court officials will establish a timeline for future hearing dates. 

Lucking said the long investigation was largely a result of seeking thorough analysis.

"There are lots of things that have been outside of our control, where we've hired experts and waited for their reports, or where we got other agencies participating in the investigation with us," said Lucking. "But over the last year, what has taken so long is being incredibly detailed in making sure that all the information has been collected that we can get our hands on for consideration, and doing right by all sides."

Lucking said Unalaskans have faced a difficult year, from the loss of four young locals, to a fatal plane crash in Unalaska last October, to facing a global pandemic. 

"My heart goes out to everyone involved," said Lucking. "I am grateful that we are on the road to having a conclusion. And I just ask for people to continue to be patient and sympathize." 

Correction: Ruckman's arraignment date was changed from June 8 to June 10 .


Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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