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Driver Pleads 'Not Guilty' In Deaths Of Two Unalaska Teens Who Died In 2019 Crash Off Mount Ballyhoo

Chrissy Roes

Bail has been set at $50,000 for 19-year-old Dustin Ruckman, the Unalaska teenager who was behind the wheel in last year's fatal car crash off Mount Ballyhoo. 

The court is not requiring bail be posted, but that he be liable for the amount should he miss a court appearance.

"Basically, it's the court saying that we will trust you this first time around as long as you don't mess up," Assistant District Attorney Nolan Oliver said Wednesday.

Earlier this month, an Anchorage grand jury indicted Ruckman for manslaughter over the May 9, 2019 crash that killed 16-year-old Karly McDonald and 18-year-old Kiara Renteria Haist. Ruckman was also charged with criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving.

Police say Ruckman drove his Ford truck off the Ulakta Head cliff side of Unalaska's Mount Ballyhoo. The pickup plunged 900 feet off the cliff. Both girls were ejected from the vehicle.

A crash reconstruction expert puts the speed of the vehicle at approximately 24 to 27 mph the moment the vehicle left the cliff. 

During a Wednesday court appearance,  Ruckman pleaded "not guilty" to the counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and reckless driving. 

Ruckman will not be allowed to have intentional contact, either direct or indirect, with either family of the victims of the crash. But he will be allowed to fish commercially this summer and travel outside the 12-nautical mile limit that's technically outside Alaska in federal waters.

"The additional conditions were to not leave Alaska, although there was a discussion where we made sure to explicitly allow him to be able to travel into surrounding waters because he's currently employed as a fisherman," said Oliver. "Because of his employment, while he's working he doesn't have this condition. But as soon as he returns to Unalaska, he is required to go under supervision, which will require him to report to authorities once a week."

Prosecutors  requested a condition that Ruckman not be allowed to drive any motor vehicles.  The judge overruled that condition as drugs and alcohol are not alleged to have been a factor in the crash. 

"The court ultimately declined to impose the state's request of restricting his driving abilities during the time that the case is pending," Oliver said.

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.  

Ruckman's attorney declined to comment.


His next hearing is scheduled for August 10. 


Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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