Hearing reveals more details about fatal, alleged hit-and-run in Avon | VailDaily.com

Hearing reveals more details about fatal, alleged hit-and-run in Avon

Defense argues statements made by Tyler Walker on the night he hit a pedestrian with his car should not be used in next month’s trial

Tyler Walker, the Avon man accused of leaving the scene after hitting a pedestrian with his car, appeared at a district court hearing in the Eagle County Justice Center Thursday morning.
Kelli Duncan/kduncan@vaildaily.com

The Avon man accused of leaving the scene after hitting a pedestrian with his car came before the court Thursday for a pretrial hearing that revealed more about what happened that night in December of last year.

Tyler Walker, 31, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury, a Class 4 felony, after he struck Andrew Dolan, 46, with his car just after 7 p.m. on Dec. 5.

Walker was traveling westbound on Highway 6 when the front right of his vehicle struck the right side of Dolan, who was crossing the highway from south to north from the Highway 6 East/Stone Creek Drive bus stop, according to an affidavit detailing the incident.

The charge brought against Walker was upgraded to a Class 3 felony charge of “leaving the scene of an accident involving death” when Dolan died of his injuries Dec. 27, more than three weeks later, according to charging documents for the case.

Thursday’s review hearing was held to determine whether the statements that Walker made to law enforcement personnel that night last winter can be considered in his jury trial next month.

Walker’s defense attorney, Jesse Wiens, filed a motion to suppress the information that his client gave police when he returned to the scene of the crash after initially driving away.

Wiens argued that Walker’s statements should not be used against him in court because the Colorado State Patrol troopers who responded to the incident waited too long to read Walker his Miranda Rights.

In determining whether this motion should be granted, Judge Paul R. Dunkelman heard from two witnesses called by the case’s prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Amy Padden, who sought to have the motion dismissed.

The witnesses were the two troopers with the Colorado State Patrol who were the first law enforcement personnel to arrive on scene that night: Chance Roth and Jeff Briggs.

The court considered two main questions in determining whether Walker’s statements were improperly acquired. Could Walker have believed that he was in custody when he was speaking to the troopers before his Miranda Rights were issued and did interrogation take place pre-Miranda Rights?

Tyler Walker.
Special to the Daily

Questioning of Roth and Briggs by the prosecution and the defense Thursday centered around the timeline of the events that night after Walker returned to the scene, which was at least 22 minutes after he hit Dolan but potentially longer, according to the testimony of the two troopers.

The first to respond was Briggs, who said he drove past the scene and saw multiple people pulled over on the side of Highway 6. He pulled over, assuming they needed assistance with their vehicles, he said.

“It wasn’t until I was right next to them that I noticed that there was someone laying on the ground next to Highway 6 on the shoulder,” Briggs said.

When Walker came back 22 minutes later, he told Briggs and Roth that he had hit something and thought that a rock had been thrown at his car, according to their testimony on Thursday. He also told them that he did keep driving, but that he had called 911 right away and returned as soon as he could get a ride back to the scene.

Both Briggs and Roth described Walker as “very talkative,” saying that he seemed to want to tell his side of the story.

“He was cooperative,” Briggs said. “He was very talkative … he was telling me information about the crash whether I was asking the questions or not, just going into very extensive detail.”

Both troopers also testified that the weather was very cold that night, which led Roth to offer for Walker to sit in his patrol car to warm up.

This moment was a major piece of contention between the prosecution and the defense, with Wiens saying that Walker sitting in the back of the patrol car is grounds for him to have thought he might have been in police custody.

The prosecution rejected this assertion and pointed to dash cam footage from that night in which Walker can be heard calling his mother and telling her that he was not under arrest.

Even the simple fact that Walker still had his phone with him and was using it free of handcuffs is enough for any reasonable person to know they were not under arrest in that moment, the prosecution argued.

Walker spoke with the troopers off and on for the more than an hour that passed between when he returned to the scene and when he was put in handcuffs and read his Miranda Rights, Wiens said.

During this time, he sat in the back of the patrol car and was asked multiple questions about what had happened. While he was in the patrol car, the troopers took his ID to fill out some forms and neither could recall giving it back, which Wiens said could have made Walker feel like he could not leave.

These facts, he said, constitute a reasonable belief of being in custody and, potentially, being interrogated.

In response, the prosecution pointed to testimony from the troopers that Walker had never asked for his ID back and that their conversation over the course of that hour or so was mainly casual.

Both Briggs and Roth testified that they did not challenge Walker on his account of what happened, which Padden said then would have constituted interrogation.

The troopers said they asked very few questions of Walker at all. The information they got from him was offered voluntarily as he repeatedly interrupted their investigation of the crash to offer more details, Briggs said.

Briggs and Roth said they worked with the Avon Police Department to locate Walker’s car, which was parked outside of his apartment building about five minutes’ driving distance from the scene.

After looking at photos of the car that showed considerable damage to the windshield and front of the vehicle, the troopers called Assistant District Attorney Joe Kirwan to ask whether hit-and-run charges were warranted based on the amount of time that Walker was gone before returning to the scene, Briggs recalled.

With Kirwan’s advisement, they then informed Walker that he was under arrest and read him his Miranda Rights, which he immediately waived to continue speaking with the troopers, Roth said.

Wiens argued that even statements made after the reading of the Miranda Rights should not be used because of what he felt was an improper handling of the situation by the two state troopers.

Judge Dunkelman said he needed more time to consider the testimony given by Roth and Briggs as well as the arguments made by Wiens and Padden. Also to be considered is video evidence from the troopers’ dash cameras, which was provided by the prosecution. He said he would submit a written verdict on the motion to suppress Walker’s statements from that night in the coming days.

Dunkelman set a “pretrial readiness conference” for the morning of Aug. 11, at which point any other questions around what can and can’t be brought forward in Walker’s jury trial will be discussed. Walker’s trial is set to begin Aug. 30.

If convicted of the Class 3 felony charge, Walker could face four to 12 years in prison.

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