Kenai prosecutors are trying for a third time to convict a man involved in a 2014 Christmas Day car crash that caused a young girl to lose both her legs.
Larry E. Pyatt, 32, was arraigned in Kenai court Tuesday on nine counts, including charges of assault, driving under the influence, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance.
In 2014, Pyatt swerved into a vehicle stopped along the northbound shoulder of the Sterling Highway near Anchor Point after mistaking the headlights of a second vehicle — which was rendering assistance — for oncoming traffic, according to court documents.
A 29-year-old pregnant woman and her 11-year-old daughter — who was pinned between the two stopped cars — were hospitalized with life-threatening injuries, according to previous Clarion reporting.
Pyatt, who suffered minor injuries, was interviewed by troopers several hours after the accident and reportedly admitted to drinking a beer, taking prescription medication and smoking marijuana from a water pipe earlier in the day. He also told troopers he had suffered a previous traumatic brain injury, according to court documents.
At the time of the interview, Pyatt successfully completed several sobriety tests and registered a .000 in a preliminary breath test. Troopers noted a slight lack of convergence — or the inability to cross one’s eyes — and read Pyatt an implied consent warning, according to court documents. Under Alaska law, a person arrested for a DUI has already given consent to a chemical test.
Pyatt’s toxicology screen indicated that he had no prescription medication in his system, and a THC level of 4.9 nanograms per milliliters, according to the court records.
Pyatt was indicted several months later on one count of driving under the influence, a class A misdemeanor; one count of reckless driving, an unclassified misdemeanor; one count of sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, a class B misdemeanor; one count of first-degree assault, a class A felony; three counts of third-degree assault, a class C felony; and one count of reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.
In May 2017, all but the sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance were dismissed by a judge.
Prosecutors re-indicted Pyatt on the same charges several days after that dismissal. Those charges were dismissed again in April by Superior Court Judge Charles T. Huguelet, who granted a defense motion to suppress the results of the blood test on the grounds that the evidence was obtained unlawfully.
Huguelet cited Supreme Court precedent that found implied consent laws that establish criminal penalties for refusal to submit to a blood test violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches. Huguelet ruled that Pyatt did not voluntarily consent to the blood draw and that no exigent circumstances existed to justify a warrantless search. Without evidence of THC in Pyatt’s blood, Huegelet found that there was not sufficient evidence to support the second indictment and granted the defense motion to dismiss.
Pyatt was also charged with misconduct involving a controlled substance based on the presence of a container of marijuana reportedly found in his car. In June, District Court Judge Margaret L. Murphy granted the motion to dismiss that charge, finding that evidence provided in the case was not sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pyatt knew he was in possession of marijuana.
Citing precedent, Murphy ruled that “the mere presence in a vehicle with drugs is insufficient evidence to establish a knowing possession of drugs.”
Prosecutors re-indicted Pyatt on July 25. Pyatt’s attorney, public defender Nathan Lockwood, said he was surprised prosecutors had chosen to indict Pyatt for a third time, considering Huguelet’s rejection of the blood test results.
He said that while he had not yet seen the evidence presented to the grand jury, he was skeptical the prosecution would be able to make a case that Pyatt was impaired at the time of the accident.
In an interview last week, Assistant District Attorney Sam Scott said he believed the prosecutors had addressed what he said were procedural issues brought up by the judge.
Pyatt was arraigned before newly seated Superior Court Judge Lance Joanis on Tuesday and released on his own recognizance.
An omnibus hearing was scheduled for Sept. 17. The trial is scheduled to be heard by Huguelet, who is slated for retirement this fall, beginning the week of Oct. 22.