By Jake Romero and Wendy Moya
DUBLIN, CA — Tyler Underwood, who is accused of killing his friend while driving intoxicated, continued his testimony Monday at the East County Hall of Justice / Alameda County Superior Court.
Deputy Public Defender Michael Wu asked Underwood about his four prior convictions of driving recklessly, intoxicated and without a valid driver’s license between 2007 and 2018.
Underwood said his decisions to drive during this period, despite having been court-ordered not to, were irresponsible and “not very smart,” and that “laziness” was why he continued to drive rather than use public transportation.
Underwood also told PD Wu that he did not believe he had a drinking problem during that time because he only drank at night or socially.
Regarding the night of the crash, Underwood said he did understand that he could not legally drive because his license was suspended, but he had not considered it dangerous for him to drive because he was not feeling the effects of the alcohol he consumed.
Underwood testified that he had a few beers on the night of the incident, which was the night before Darren Walker, the victim, was supposed to leave the Fremont area for some time. Underwood texted their mutual friend saying “Darren’s leaving, let’s get him f***ed up,” according to his testimony.
PD Wu’s line of questioning was thorough, asking Underwood details about his work history, friendships and his relationship with his daughter. Judge David Pereda sustained numerous objections from the prosecution regarding the relevance of the questions.
At two points, Judge Pereda and the attorneys met privately to discuss the objections.
When the court adjourned for lunch, Judge Pereda addressed the defense disagreement about an objected line of questioning.
PD Wu said the nature of Underwood’s relationship with his daughter is relevant because she was in the car when it crashed, and—since Underwood is charged with murder—the prosecution must prove malice or ill intent. The relationship is also relevant because Underwood is charged with child abuse, according to the defense.
After the break, Underwood resumed his testimony, describing the gathering between himself and his friends on Oct. 9, 2018. Everyone had been drinking that night and he claims that he was the one who drank the least. Therefore, he felt inclined to drive one of the vehicles to dinner.
He testified that he did not feel did impaired to drive. He did not experience any difficulty maintaining his balance and so, he assumed he was capable of driving one of the vehicles to dinner, as he and his friends had planned.
Underwood claimed that, although he was speeding, he did not anticipate it, nor could he foresee the danger that it would cause that night.
Underwood said he helped his young daughter strap herself into her car seat. Once settled into the vehicle, Underwood drove to a nearby gas station to fill up his vehicle’s gas tank. He claimed he did not feel the effects of the alcohol then.
Underwood maintained that he never believed that driving fast was dangerous, nor did he suspect that anyone would ever die because of his fast driving.
As Underwood turned onto Interstate 680 South, he described the way he and his friend sped and passed each other, reaching speeds of upwards of 90 miles per hour. He admits that speeding wasn’t a “bright idea,” but in the moment, it was simply an impulse.
Underwood described a sudden “boom” and his vehicle “pitched to the right.”
He described the proceeding moments very fleetingly. He lost control of his vehicle and then heard his daughter cry out.
Underwood recounted the way the vehicle shot down the embankment after going off the freeway. When he regained his focus, he heard his daughter crying, he asked his female passenger if she was okay, and looked out the windshield. Underwood described not being able to see without his glasses.
He said he climbed out through the sunroof because the car door wouldn’t open.
Underwood reported feeling “scared, freaked out, worried.”
Underwood said that he thought he heard the victim speaking and assumed he had gotten out of the vehicle. His friends, who were in another vehicle, helped his female passenger and his daughter out of the vehicle.
Underwood admits that he thought he would get in trouble because he had been driving without a license and had consumed alcohol prior to the accident.
Underwood claimed he debated having someone else say they were driving instead of him because he had “finally start[ed] to do good,” fought for his child’s custody, and had just gotten a stable place to live.
Underwood admitted that was scared of “repercussions” after what had happened and believed CPS would take his child away from him, and that he was “upset” and “scared” when he asked a friend of his to say that he had been driving, as opposed to admitting that Underwood himself had been driving.
This friend denied his request, but Underwood added his friend eventually gave into the idea and instructed the group of friends to say that he had been the one driving, and not Underwood.
Underwood estimated that it took first responders around five to 10 minutes to arrive.
He said that he was nervous for his daughter, who had been diagnosed with epilepsy. First responders took his young daughter into the ambulance and would not let Underwood approach her as they cared for her. He claimed that he cannot recall if he was informed of what first responders were doing with his daughter.
A California Highway Patrol officer asked Underwood who had been driving as he was with the paramedics. Underwood responded that one of his friends had been driving, although he later admitted that this was false.
Underwood stated that he was not allowed to ride ion the ambulance with his child on their way to the hospital. He was strapped down in a separate ambulance.
Underwood declared that he and his friends weren’t aware that the victim who had died had been ejected from the vehicle and he, therefore, didn’t tell authorities that the victim was unaccounted for because the victim “didn’t particularly like law enforcement,” so he assumed that the victim had simply walked off.
According to Underwood, after the accident, the victim’s mother called him a number of times asking about the victim’s whereabouts and whether or not he had spoken to the victim following the accident. Underwood, who was taken to the hospital, had not spoken to the victim at that point.
Underwood, according to his testimony, called the victim’s phone multiple times from the hospital, but there never received a response.
He stated he and his daughter were later discharged from the same hospital on Oct. 10, 2018. Underwood, his daughter, and the mother of his daughter ate dinner at a restaurant after stopping at his home to change clothes. His roommate then informed him that Darren was still unaccounted for.
Afterwards, while at the restaurant, Underwood received a call from his friend telling him that the victim’s body was found by the side of the freeway.
Underwood “couldn’t believe it,” claiming it felt as though his “stomach fell out” when he found out the news.
Following the revelation of the news, Underwood didn’t tell the victim’s family that he had been the one driving. He said he had “so many different emotions running through [him]” and “couldn’t think properly.”
He admitted he knew there was a possibility that he could get in trouble. He maintained that his friend was the one driving. During his testimony, Underwood admitted this lie was “selfish,” “irresponsible,” and that he thoroughly regrets it.
The trial is ongoing.