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Fatal Ballyhoo car crash trial likely to take place in summer

More than three years after the crash, Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr. — who is overseeing the case — said a trial date will likely be set at the next hearing, Jan. 24.

A long-awaited trial date is expected soon in a criminal case involving a fatal 2019 vehicle crash in Unalaska. That comes after a recent status hearing for the driver, Dustin Ruckman, who faces multiple felony charges, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

In early May, three-and-a-half years ago, Ruckman, a high schooler at the time, drove his truck off of Unalaska’s Ulakta Head Cliff on Mount Ballyhoo. 16-year-old Karly McDonald and 18-year-old Kiara Renteria Haist were ejected from the vehicle and killed as the pickup descended 900 feet down the cliff. Ruckman claimed to have been thrown from the vehicle, suffering minor injuries.

About a year later, prosecutors filed felony charges against Ruckman. In June of 2020, he pleaded not guilty to counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving. If convicted, he faces decades in prison: up to 20 years 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.

The court process has moved slowly. Some hearings have been vacated or reset due to the COVID-19 pandemic or to allow parties to prepare trial materials. Ruckman’s lawyer also began cancer treatment since the case was originally opened.

Now, more than three years since the crash, Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr. — who is overseeing the case — said a trial date will likely be set at the next hearing, Jan. 24. Both the defense and district attorneys will gather expert analysis interviews and make sure witnesses will be available before then.

This spring, on the third anniversary of the tragic crash, community members gathered in Unalaska to honor the young girls and show support to the families. Both Kiara’s and Karly’s parents attended the peaceful protest, and said they hoped it could catalyze the judicial process and bring some element of closure to the families.

At a status hearing Nov. 30, the Superior Court Judge said the trial will probably take place in June or July of 2023. It will likely be held in Unalaska and last roughly two weeks.

During the hearing, Diana Renteria — Kiara’s mother — expressed gratitude to the court for moving forward with a possible trial date.

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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