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Fatal Unalaska car crash trial date pushed back to November

At a hearing Aug. 1, Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr. pushed back the trial to late November in Unalaska.

The trial for a criminal case involving a fatal 2019 vehicle crash in Unalaska won't happen this summer.

Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr. “reluctantly” granted the continuance during a trial call Tuesday afternoon, after the defense cited health issues and concerns about getting experts to the remote island.

In early May, more than four years ago, Dustin Ruckman, a high schooler at the time, drove his truck off of Unalaska’s Ulakta Head Cliff. Sixteen-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 told police he was thrown from the vehicle. He suffered minor injuries.

About a year later, prosecutors filed felony charges against Ruckman. The driver, in June of 2020, pleaded not guilty to counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving.

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 and expert witnesses. Ruckman’s lawyer has also undergone cancer treatment since the case began.

In January, Walker finally set a trial date for late August in Unalaska — more than four years after the fatal crash. But on Tuesday, he pushed that date back, and set Ruckman’s next court date for mid-November. The jury trial is now scheduled for Nov. 27.

The decision was met by outrage from family members of the two teens who were killed.

“You keep delaying it and delaying it and it’s keeping me in this hell,” Kiara’s mom, Diana Renteria, said during the hearing Tuesday. “November 27? You want to give me another three months to cry? … What about us? What about the victims? What about Karly and Kiara? How about their justice?”

The defense declined a request for comment.

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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