Editor’s Note: The Moab Sun News requested an audio recording of Gage Moore’s previously unscheduled April 28 bail hearing and arraignment in 7th District Juvenile Court in Monticello. The court granted that request on May 17, and the Sun News subsequently received a copy of that recording, which forms the basis of this report.
A juvenile court judge will determine this month if there’s enough evidence to move forward with the case against a Moab teenager charged with two counts of criminal automobile homicide and other offenses.
Gage Moore, 18, is scheduled to appear in 7th District Juvenile Court in Monticello for a full-day preliminary hearing on Friday, June 30. Prosecutors have charged him in connection with a fatal March 5 car accident near Ken’s Lake that claimed the lives of 14-year-old Taylor Bryant and 16-year-old Connor Denney of Moab.
Moore stands accused of two second-degree felony counts of automobile homicide, as well as second-degree felony sexual abuse of a child; two third-degree felony charges of driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs involving injury to another person; and misdemeanor charges of lewdness involving a child; reckless driving; and unlawful purchase/possession of alcohol by a minor.
Authorities allege that Moore was behind the wheel of a 2003 Subaru Impreza that lost control and crashed on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road in northern San Juan County some time before 7:30 a.m. on March 5. At the time of Moore’s arrest in late April, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that excessive speed and alcohol were factors in the crash.
Seventeen-year-old Daniel McCrary and 14-year-old Tierney DeMille of Moab – along with Moore himself – were also injured in the crash.
At Moore’s first court appearance on Friday, April 28, 7th District Juvenile Court Judge Craig Bunnell found sufficient cause that Moore should be detained in jail, based on the seriousness of the charges. But the judge denied San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws’ request for a no-bail hold on Moore, and instead set the defendant’s bail amount at $30,000.
Defense attorney Walter Bugden asked the court to consider a lower amount of $20,000, arguing that Moore’s family will have a hard time bearing all of the expenses they’re likely to incur.
Before the judge could respond with his ruling, though, numerous audience members interrupted the proceedings and scoffed at Bugden’s remarks; some of the comments from an audio recording of the hearing are inaudible because people were speaking over each other.
“$200,000!” one man interjected.
“You’re ridiculous!” another man said.
“A million!” a woman said.
Judge Bunnell ultimately rejected Bugden’s request, telling the defense attorney that he’d contemplated any financial hardships that Moore’s family may face.
“I already took that into consideration when I set the amount,” the judge said. “Based on the charges, it could be much, much higher, so I’m going to stay with the $30,000.”
The judge also ordered Moore to wear alcohol and ankle monitors, and under the terms of his release on bail, the defendant will be subject to random alcohol and drug tests. He must also avoid contact with any of the witnesses in the case, remain under adult supervision when he leaves his home and abide by an 8 p.m. curfew.
In the time between the incident and Moore’s first court appearance in late April, Moore worked for his father’s business in Moab, and the judge allowed that work to continue. However, Moore is expressly prohibited from operating a motor vehicle, unless he’s driving it on the premises of the business.
Prosecution, defense spar over allegations in case
Moore, who denied all of the charges against him, is presumed to be innocent unless or until a court formally convicts him of any offenses.
Although he turned 18 just four days after the crash, the court system views him as a juvenile because he was still 17 years old on March 5. The process to formally charge Moore as an adult is expected to take some time, according to the San Juan County Attorney’s Office.
Laws had asked the court to hold Moore in custody without bail, given the serious nature of the charges against the teenager.
“We have two deceased victims, and we have two victims who have been substantially and permanently injured in this incident, and so I think the seriousness of the charges (is) something that needs to be considered by the court in … making this decision,” Laws said.
Bugden countered that it would be “highly unusual” for a juvenile to be detained on the charges in the case.
“Even if you give weight to what Mr. Laws has said … The idea of no bail, I don’t believe it’s constitutional,” he said.
Bugden said he “guesses” that Laws wants the court to assume that Moore is guilty when he talks about the seriousness of the offenses.
“Of course, we understand that this is a terrible tragedy, and that there were serious injuries here, but the defendant, not just in adult court, but in juvenile court, is also presumed to be innocent,” Bugden said.
The two attorneys also sparred over allegations that Moore was abusing alcohol before the incident occurred, and that he has continued to abuse it.
Laws said that investigators have found evidence that Moore and other minors were drinking alcohol before the accident occurred.
“There’s … a lot of concern from the state with regards to, in the course of this investigation, the pictures and things that have been uncovered through search warrants and from other witnesses with regards to the minors’ alcohol use,” he said.
Even after the accident, Laws said, rumors have emerged that Moore continues to drink alcohol and even drive.
“We haven’t been able to substantiate that, but those rumors, combined with the pictures and the other evidence that we have, obviously gives us a great concern that … something additional may occur if he is out on bail,” Laws said.
Bugden said he categorically denies those rumors “a thousand percent.”
“He was hospitalized for a while, your honor, then he was in his home,” Bugden said. “He’s still recovering from his own injuries.”
The prosecutor has no evidence, he said, that Moore is abusing alcohol.
“I don’t think that we base decisions in court on unsubstantiated rumor,” Bugden said. “There are no facts to support any suggestion or accusation that Gage has had any drinking since then.”
However, Laws went on to allege that Moore’s reckless behavior at the time of the accident was not limited to alcohol abuse.
“Alcohol certainly played a part in this incident, but the state’s theory and allegation in this case is that speed and extremely reckless driving also played a part in it,” he said.
Moore enters sexual battery plea in unrelated case
In addition to the current charges against him, Moore also has a “plea in abeyance” pending for sexual battery.
In Utah, a defendant who has entered a plea in abeyance typically pleads guilty or “no contest” to a crime. If he or she follows the conditions of a plea agreement, the conviction is ultimately expunged from that person’s criminal record after a certain period of time has elapsed.
Laws brought up the charge in Moore’s sexual battery case because he said it echoes the counts of sexual abuse and lewdness in the San Juan County case.
“And so taking that into account with the current charges that are sexual in nature again causes the state a great deal of concern, and I think weighs in favor of keeping Gage in custody during the tenancy of this case,” he said.
Bugden acknowledged that Moore has entered a plea in abeyance in the prior case, although he told the court that the incident was not a major one.
The facts, he said, are that Moore slapped a woman’s rear end at a grocery store on a dare.
“I’m not trying to minimize, but it’s certainly not a very serious offense,” Bugden said.
“I understand it’s a crime, and that he had a plea in abeyance, but we’re talking about a slap on a butt,” he added a few minutes later.
Gage Moore remains free on $30,000 bail
“I already took (the financial hardship to the family) into consideration when I set the amount … Based on the charges, it could be much, much higher, so I’m going to stay with the $30,000.”