[messengers] Santa Cruz fatal hit-and-run defendant pleads not guilty

Date: 22 Jun 2011 03:05:51 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>


Santa Cruz
fatal hit-and-run defendant pleads not guilty

 

By Stephen Baxter

 

Santa Cruz
Sentinel, June 21, 2011

 

SANTA CRUZ
- Elliott Dess, the 21-year-old driver accused of hitting cyclist Zachary Parke
on Empire Grade Road on June 8, pleaded not guilty today to charges that
included felony vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run.

 

Dess appeared in court in orange jail clothes, shackled,
head bowed, and Judge Paul Burdick kept Dess' bail set at $100,000. He posted
bail Tuesday afternoon. Dess waived his right to speedy trial and is due back
in court July 18.

 

Gerald Christensen, Dess' attorney, said Dess had no
criminal record and did not pose a flight risk because he has always lived in Santa Cruz and has family
and friends here. More than 25 friends and family appeared in court to support
him.

Dess also was charged with a special allegation of leaving
the scene of a fatal crime. He faces more than 10 years in prison if found
guilty.

 

"I know there's been community outrage," said
Christensen.

 

Outside court Christensen said he was disappointed with the
judge's decision not to lower the bail amount or release Dess on his own
recognizance.

 

"My client will most certainly appear (in court). He's
generally a decent young guy," Christensen said. "He will face up to
this tragic situation."

 

Dess, who has shaved blond hair, stood still with his head
down gazing at the floor for much of the hearing.

 

Prosecutor Jason Gill argued against Dess' release, offering
new details in the prosecution's sequence of events after the crash.

 

Just after midnight on June 8, Dess drove a 1998 Nissan
Maxima south on Empire Grade Road and collided with Zachary Parke, who was
cycling downhill from a friend's home at UC Santa Cruz, the CHP reported.

 

Gill said in court that Dess did not stop at the crash
scene, and there was no evidence of skid marks on the road. Gill said Dess
"had the opportunity to do the right thing and call 911" to try to
save Parke's life.

 

Instead, Gill said, Dess pulled over near the UCSC Arboretum
on Empire Grade

 

Gill said Dess then left his mangled car parked on the
Westside of Santa Cruz in an attempt to "conceal and abandon it."

The car was impounded that day, and authorities contacted
Dess about 16 to 18 hours after the crash, Gill said. At that point, Dess lied
to investigators and said he was driving on Highway 1 and hit a deer, Gill
said.

 

"Instead of doing the responsible thing, he flees the
scene, conceals evidence and lies to police," Gill said in court.

 

Zachary Parke's body was found by a passing cyclist about 8
a.m. the day of the crash.

April Parke, Zachary Parke's mother, cried through parts of
the hearing.

 

Elizabeth Parke, Zachary's 32-year-old sister, abruptly left
the courtroom at one point but returned. In an uncommon legal move, April Parke
made a statement to Judge Burdick before his ruling on Dess's bail.

 

"I heard the (defense) lawyer say (Dess) was a caring
man. I find that hard to believe. 

How can a caring person hit someone and leave him on the
side of the road for eight hours?" April Parke asked.

 

Dess' friends and family said Dess is a decent person who
made a big mistake and panicked.

 

"He's very remorseful. He feels horrible," Ruth
Garland, a friend of the Dess family who also knew Zachary Parke, 25, from rock
climbing activities, said after court.

 

"It was a horrible tragedy. Elliott panicked," Garland said.

 

Garland
said Dess and Zachary Parke did not know each other. She said the crash has
been doubly painful for her because of her ties to the victim and suspect.

 

"It's been the worst thing I've had to deal with in my
life," Garland
said.

 

Dess's father declined to comment outside court.

 

Jasper Garland,
20, said Dess is his best friend.

 

Outside court, he described Dess as a moral and caring
person.

 

Dess attended Santa
  Cruz Community School, an alternative school for
adolescent males in grades 7 to 10. He was working at an auto parts warehouse.

 

Jasper Garland
said he and Dess often played Frisbee golf in their spare time. They worked on
cars and rode mountain bike trails at the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

"I pray that whenever he gets out, he stays the same
person so I can hang out with him," Jasper Garland said.

 

 


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