A Moab teenager accused of automobile homicide and other offenses now intends to plead guilty to the two main second-degree felony charges against him.
Gage Moore, 18, waived his right to a preliminary hearing in Monticello on Friday, July 21, and is also planning to plead guilty to two class A misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, defense attorney Walter Bugden said. Under the terms of a plea agreement with San Juan County prosecutors, the remaining charges against him – including second-degree felony sexual abuse of a child and two third-degree felony charges of driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs involving injury to another person – would be dismissed.
“We’re doing this, your honor, because Gage does want to accept responsibility for this terrible accident,” Bugden said on July 21.
Moore is next scheduled to appear in 7th District Court in Monticello on Monday, Aug. 14, and he is expected to formally enter his pleas at that time.
The charges against him stem from 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. Local students Daniel McCrary and Tierney DeMille Dawson – along with Moore himself – were also injured in the crash; Tierney has since undergone extensive surgeries to repair severe damage to her body.
Authorities said 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. The car was reportedly traveling more than 80 miles per hour in a 40-mile-per-hour zone, according to San Juan County authorities.
Apart from Moore, authorities said that none of the other people who were in the vehicle had been drinking alcohol.
Moore appeared briefly in 7th District Juvenile Court in Monticello on Friday, July 21, for what was expected to be his preliminary hearing. Dozens of other people, including the victims’ friends and family members and subpoenaed witnesses, waited around the San Juan County Courthouse as Bugden conferred in private with prosecutors.
When the court formally convened after more than an hour and a half of delays, Bugden announced the plea agreement, telling 7th District Juvenile Court Judge Craig Bunnell that his client plans to change his pleas in adult court.
Once Moore waived his rights to a preliminary hearing, Judge Bunnell vacated a juvenile court hearing set for this week and bound the case over to adult district court.
“The court finds that it would be contrary to the best interests of Mr. Moore – or the public – to retain jurisdiction,” the judge said.
The vacated certification hearing would have been the venue where the court determined whether or not Moore could be prosecuted as an adult in 7th District Court due to his age at the time of the March 5 incident: Although Moore turned 18 years old just four days after the crash, the court system continued to view him as a juvenile.
Bugden told the court that he thinks the evidence weighs against a certification hearing, although Moore ultimately waived his right to that hearing.
San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws did not address the court during open session on July 21, and Laws said that he is not at liberty to comment on the plea deal at this time.
“I can’t really talk about it in detail until after the sentencing,” he said. “My office will be issuing a press release after the sentencing to shed some light on the details.”
However, word of the proposed plea deal came as a disappointment to McCrary and some of the victims’ other relatives.
McCrary said in a comment on the Moab Sun News’ Facebook page that he believes the sexual abuse charge against Moore should still be in place.
“This isn’t fair to our (families) having to suffer through this and him get away (with) this,” he wrote. “He didn’t know what he was doing I understand that but he should still get the punishment he would have had if he was sober because it’s still the same crime.”
McCrary said that “the rest of the story will come out” when he and Tierney testify in court.
“(Just) because his family has money doesn’t mean that the courts have the full story of what really happened and when the state finds out we will get justice,” he wrote.
Tierney’s recovery is ongoing
According to the family’s GoFundMe page, Tierney spent five weeks in the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for treatment of the serious injuries she sustained in the accident. Her father subsequently quit his local job, and the family relocated to Salt Lake City to be closer to her.
Her mother Honey Hope Dawson wrote that Tierney’s entire brain was bruised and her frontal cortex was bleeding, while her right humerus was shattered, her left leg was nearly severed and her right hip was dislocated. Most of her right ankle was also “lost,” and her right heel was broken in half, her mother wrote.
Tierney has since been in and out of the hospital on numerous occasions for medical procedures, including a skin graft. In late June, her orthopedic surgeon finally cleared her to walk again; the next day, she was taken to the dentist to fix five broken teeth, and then on to see a pediatrician, according to a post on the Tierney’s Recovery Facebook page.
To help offset her medical expenses, Tierney’s family is accepting donations, which can be made at any Mountain America Credit Union under the name of “Tierney DeMille,” or via GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/tierney-demille-dawson-medical-bill.
Teen waives right to preliminary hearing, case transferred to adult court