By Ankita Joshi and Gina Kim
DUBLIN, CA – Tyler Underwood continued his testimony this week in East County Hall of Justice / Alameda County Superior Court in his ongoing jury trial for felony driving under the influence (DUI), and the unlawful killing of another human being without malice aforethought.
Underwood had previously been convicted five other times for drinking under the influence, dating back to 2008.
As the trial progressed, Deputy Public Defender Rebecca Tran began by interviewing Underwood in front of the jury. The main premises of her questions revolved around Underwood’s previous history of DUIs, and his familial exposure to alcohol from a young age.
PD Tran asked if this lack of memory stemmed from the alcohol Underwood had consumed that night, to which Underwood again replied that he didn’t remember, not because of his intoxication but because the incident was several months ago.
Deputy District Attorney James Ford made many objections that the questions asked were beyond the scope of what the court had allowed.
Following several objections, Judge David Pereda called a recess and took time to speak to both attorneys.
Once the recess ended, PD Tran continued her line of questioning by asking whether Underwood remembered all the forms he had signed about the dangers of drunk driving in his previous convictions, and whether he believed himself to be an exception to the rule.
Underwood had been given advisement five previous times about the consequences that he could face if he killed someone while driving under the influence, and he had also signed forms acknowledging his understanding on the subject those five previous times.
PD Tran also noted that Underwood had applied for another driver’s license the next month after his 2008 conviction, had a history of driving without a license, and had also purchased a car at a point when he did not have a license.
PD Tran followed this up by asking Underwood whether he had a problem with the concept of drinking and driving.
“No… My grandfather did it with me in the car for 20 years and nothing ever happened,” replied Underwood.
Throughout the next several questions, PD Tran delved into Underwood’s familial history with alcohol and his exposure to alcohol from a young age.
In a continued hearing later that afternoon, District Attorney Abigail Mulvihill walked through Underwood’s actions the night of Oct. 9.
After drinking 2.5 cans of liquor, the defendant entered his car around 11 p.m. with four other passengers—including Daniel Cameron, Darren Walker, and Underwood’s four-year-old daughter—to head toward their local Pho restaurant. He was accompanied by his other friend, Blake Levins, driving in a separate vehicle.
DA Mulvihill verified Underwood could have sent this friend alone to pick up their orders or call a taxi. She also questioned whether the defendant felt he put anyone in danger that night.
“I don’t feel by my driving anyone was in danger,” Underwood stated.
Underwood didn’t dispute the story that, when he entered the freeway, his friend in the separate vehicle sped past him. In response, Underwood pushed down on his accelerator to surpass his friend.
While looking down on his speedometer, Underwood said he had a split second to note he was driving over 100 miles an hour before hearing a “pop or boom noise” and losing control. His car flew off the road and flipped down the embankment, crashing just two minutes after entering the freeway.
The victim, Darren Walker, flew out the passenger door. He died upon impact.
Once the car stopped rolling at the bottom of the hill, Underwood heard crying and screaming. Although Underwood testified earlier he assumed Darren was safe like everyone else in the vehicle, DA Mulvihill noted how Underwood had not seen Darren following the crash.
Underwood said he reasoned he did not have his glasses on, and did not look at his vehicle after the accident, explaining why he hadn’t noticed the wrecked back door Walker flew out from.
DA Mulvihill noted how Cameron and Levins helped the other passengers exit the crashed vehicle, while Underwood hadn’t assisted anyone. Moreover, Cameron had been the one to carry Underwood’s daughter.
Underwood stated he couldn’t walk around without his glasses on, not wanting to “take the risk of hurting someone by helping someone.”
To that DA Mulvihill questioned why Underwood understood the risk of walking around without glasses on, but not of drinking and driving.
The DDA continued her storyline: That, on his way up the hill, with Cameron still carrying his daughter, Underwood accepted Cameron’s offer to take responsibility for the crash, telling him he “can’t afford another DUI” and owed him his life.
Everyone on the scene was instructed by Underwood and Cameron to lie to the authorities, letting Cameron take the blame, the DDA said, noting that Underwood asked Levins to hide the narcotics in his pocket. Although they were leftover prescriptions from his previous motorcycle accident, Underwood was afraid the police would find them.
As Underwood made his way up the hill, he shouted, “Danny was driving, Danny was driving!” When the police arrived, Underwood pointed a finger at Cameron. “He’s the driver,” Underwood said.
He never strayed from this version of the events until 21 days following the incident, said the prosecution.
In court, Underwood said he was afraid CPS would take his daughter after he just recently gained custody. He expressed concern the police might smell beer on his breath and realize he did not have a license at the time.
DDA Mulvihill noted how, earlier, Underwood testified to feeling concern for his daughter’s safety in the back of the ambulance, that his “fatherly instincts” had kicked in.
She asked where these instincts were when Underwood told his daughter to strap herself into the car seat by herself.
DDA Mulvihill also questioned whether Underwood was concerned he would fail the breathalyzer test and get arrested for driving under the influence, to which Underwood answered he wasn’t feeling the effects of alcohol.
On the morning of Oct. 10, after Underwood and his daughter were released from the hospital, Underwood discovered Walker was found dead at the scene where he crashed his car.
Despite Underwood admitting to feeling horrible about the news, DA Mulvihill stated he did not “feel horrible enough to call CHP…because now the stakes were higher than just a DUI.” She stated he was willing to “lie to anyone” to avoid murder charges.
“Yes, I lied. I feel bad for it. And I apologize to anybody that was involved in the situation,” Underwood said.
DDA Mulvihill noted how Underwood never apologized to the victim’s mother.
“I never had the chance to.” Underwood exclaimed.
DDA Mulvihill asked about the time he called the mother the morning of Oct 10, yet still continued to lie. “F***ing Danny,” Underwood told her, “I hoped he wasn’t drinking. That was the only reason I let him drive.”
From that point, Underwood’s voice grew louder and more frantic. The court took a brief break for him to recompose.
Defense Attorney Michael Wu continued the discussion without Underwood present, requesting admonition due to Mulvihill’s prosecutorial misconduct. He described her line of questioning as “totally improper,” stating her “M.O. from the very beginning was to appeal to the passion and prejudice of the jury.
“Her volume level was off the charts,” Wu added, and “clearly Mr. Underwood has a response to being yelled out by the prosecutor.”
DDA Mulvihill countered that Underwood kept bringing up how he “never had a chance” to apologize, calling that “absolutely outrageous and offensive.
“If he wants to get up there and continue to say that, I’m going to bring up every single opportunity he has had to correct the record, because he is not being honest at all about the opportunities he has had to be forthcoming,” Mulvihill stated.