Driver in 2014 fatal car crash pleads guilty

The driver of a car that was involved in a fatal vehicle crash that claimed the life of an 18-year-old Juneau-Douglas High School senior in 2014 has pleaded guilty.

Rather than standing trial — which was slated to start Monday — William Buchkoski took a plea deal Friday in Juneau Superior Court.

Buchkoski, 20, was originally facing manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges in connection to the March 2014 crash that killed Jessica Louise Billy and seriously injured another passenger.

[Teen driver in fatal car crash charged with manslaughter, homicide, assault.]

The plea deal dismisses those charges in exchange for Buchkoski’s guilty plea on two counts of third-degree assault. Third-degree assault is a class C felony that can carry up to five years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced after a pre-sentence report is penned at the end of August.

Prosecutors said Buchkoski, then 18, was behind the wheel when he failed to yield for a semi-truck that had the right of way at the intersection of Yandukin Drive and Old Dairy Road. Billy was killed instantly, and a passenger — Buchkoski’s stepbrother and Billy’s boyfriend, Shadd M. Rudick, then 20 — was left in critical condition. He was medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment and later recovered from his injuries at a rehabilitation center in Everett, Washington.

[Gone too soon: Friends, family remember Jessica Billy.]

As part of the plea deal, Buchkoski will be required to perform 200 hours of community service along with whatever jail sentence he receives. He will also have to undergo a substance abuse assessment.

Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said the decision to require the assessment stems from a toxicology report three hours after the crash that revealed Buchkoski had 1.7 nanograms of THC (a chemical in marijuana) active in his system. How much was metabolized by that time is unknown, Kemp said. She added that laws on the amount of allowed for drivers are not clear in Alaska. In Washington, 5 nanograms of THC renders a driver impaired.

[Fatal crash investigated as homicide, police consider charging 18-year-old driver.]

The DA’s office made the decision to offer up the plea deal to ensure that some form of justice is served, Kemp said in an interview.

“We want to resolve the case and ensure the victims of the case get some level of justice versus running the risk they get none after a trial in the event that there’s an acquittal,” Kemp said to the Empire.

On Friday, members of Billy’s family attended the court hearing with Kemp. They demurred to speak to the court when asked by Judge Pallenberg. Attorneys said family and friends of both the defendant and the victim are expected to speak at length at sentencing.

Kemp said she was not sure how many years in prison she will argue for Buchkoski to serve behind bars, but that she is researching similar cases. A long probation tied to any sentence with a mandatory no-driving regulation for Buchkoski is a high priority for the state and the victim’s family, Kemp said.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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