Sentencing begins in Anchorage hit-and-run cyclist case

Melissa Holder testified during the sentencing hearing of Alexandra Ellis, who killed Holder's husband in a hit-and-run last year. Hillman/KSKA
Melissa Holder testified during the sentencing hearing of Alexandra Ellis, who killed Holder’s husband in a hit-and-run last year. Hillman/KSKA

The first segment of Alexandra Ellis’ sentencing hearing took place Friday afternoon in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage. Ellis pleaded guilty to hitting and killing cyclist Jeff Dusenbury last summer, when she was 17. She was intoxicated at the time and fled the scene.

The state agreed to plea deal this spring that called for Ellis to serve one year in prison with two suspended. Community members and the victim’s family are asking the judge to reject the deal made with the state and give Ellis a longer sentence.

Judge Michael Wolverton heard testimony from a scene reconstructionist, Jay Smith, who was hired by the defense. Smith told the court that evidence suggested that Ellis was reversing at 11 miles per hour while Dusenbury was cycling between 30 to 35 mph. However, Smith said most of the literature he used to develop those calculations did not look at situations where a cyclist was hit from the side as Dusenbury was.

Defense attorney William Ingaldson also said that Dusenbury’s reaction time might have been slow because he was cycling with earbuds in and had traces of THC in his blood.

“And if someone is under the influence whether it’s alcohol or say, marijuana, that person under the influence of marijuana’s perception time is going to slow down, isn’t it?” Ingaldson asked Smith.

“Yes,” Smith replied.

“That person who is 100 feet away from a truck might not stop in time. Might not take evasive action if the truck is turning, right?” Ingaldson asked.

“That is correct.”

Jay Smith stands before a photo of Jeff Dusenbury's bike as it lay where he was hit and killed. Hillman/KSKA
Jay Smith stands before a photo of Jeff Dusenbury’s bike as it lay where he was hit and killed. Hillman/KSKA

The court also heard emotional testimony from Dusenbury’s friends and family as Ellis sobbed at her table. Melissa Holder is Dusenbury’s widow.

“Alexandra Ellis killed my best friend of 32 years,” said Dusenbury’s widow Melissa Holder, through tears. “He was my soul mate, my husband, and the father of my only child. In 32 years I had never gone more than 12 hours without hearing his voice.”

She also asked the judge to consider the implications of what she considers to be the plea deal’s light sentence.

“What kind of message does this send to our community? Please do not let Jeff’s death be in vain. We fail the youth of our community if we do not take this opportunity to send a clear message that taking the life of a person while driving irresponsibly is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

The hearing will continue on Monday with a confidential session. Judge Wolverton said he will chose the next public hearing date at that point. He also said he will consider “the thoughtful input” from the community shared through social media when deciding on the sentence.