Trial begins for Fremont man accused of murder in fatal highway crash
Fremont resident Tyler Underwood, now 34, is charged with second degree murder for the death of Darren Walker in 2018.
Just over three years after a high-speed crash on Interstate 680 in Fremont killed a passenger who was ejected from the car, but whose body was not found until the following day, the murder trial of the man driving the vehicle began Monday.
Fremont resident Tyler Underwood, now 34 and in Santa Rita Jail, is charged with second-degree murder for the death of his friend Darren Walker, who was riding in the back seat of a car Underwood was driving on Oct. 9, 2018, when Underwood lost control and crashed down an embankment.
Underwood is also charged with three other felonies — including child abuse because his 4-year-old daughter was in the car as well — and several other misdemeanors and infractions.
During opening arguments in Alameda County Superior Court in Dublin on Monday morning, prosecutor Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Abigail Mulvihill painted Underwood as a man who has consistently ignored the risks of drunken driving, who knew he was endangering himself and others that night, and she categorized the crash that resulted in his friend Walker’s death as “inevitable.”
Mulvihill said a blood test about 90 minutes after the crash showed Underwood’s blood alcohol content was at 0.157%, nearly twice the legal limit. She claimed he knew he was too drunk to safely drive, and “made a conscious choice to drive at a deadly speed” of up to 140 mph.
Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Michael Wu told the jury that while Underwood made “some very bad decisions” the night of the crash, including the “stupid and dangerous” decision to speed, “he did not murder his friend.”
Wu said Underwood was not intoxicated, and called into question the test used to measure Underwood’s blood alcohol content, saying it was “obtained using techniques that violated state-mandated regulations.”
He also told the jury the prosecution’s case is based on “fuzzy memories and faulty assumptions.”
Wu maintained that the district attorney’s office has “overcharged” Underwood with second-degree murder, saying the death of Walker was the result of recklessness.
While Underwood bears responsibility, convicting him of murder would be a “grave and irreversible injustice,” Wu said.
The case stems from a tragic and bizarre accident, when the prosecution said that Underwood was driving his gray BMW sedan south on I-680 on Oct. 9, 2018, with his daughter in the car, along with a woman in the passenger seat, and Walker in the back.
A friend of Underwood’s was driving a silver Audi with a passenger, and both groups were headed to get food in Milpitas, according to opening arguments from attorneys.
Authorities previously said Underwood was jockeying at high speed against the other driver and lost control of his car and rolled down a tree-lined embankment about a mile north of Scott Creek Road in Fremont.
Walker was thrown from the car and died along the embankment. Wu claimed no one in either of the cars knew where Walker was, and assumed he left because he didn’t want to have contact with the police.
Underwood asked the passenger of the other car to lie to the police and tell them he was driving Underwood’s car. The four adults agreed to lie to police about who was driving Underwood’s car.
The next day, Walker’s mother contacted the CHP and told them he hadn’t come home the previous night and was in the car with Underwood.
Authorities later found Walker’s body about 50 feet from where the car came to rest, attorneys said. Underwood eventually told police that he was driving the car, Wu said.
Wu said the crash was the result of a “surprise dip” in the road, causing Underwood to lose control.
“From start to finish, this was a matter of seconds,” Wu said. “There was no time for reflection or deliberation; these were friends that were messing around. Tyler never once imagined that if he sped, someone would end up dying,” he said.
Wu said to convict Underwood of murder, the prosecution must convince the jury that Underwood believed he was intoxicated and acknowledged the risk that someone would likely die, and disregarded the risk, which he said the evidence does not support. Wu said Underwood’s daughter was “his entire world” and he wouldn’t do anything to endanger her.
Underwood has a “disturbing history,” the prosecutor, Mulvihill, said, having been convicted of five DUI-related charges in the 10 years before October 2018, including one just 44 days before the crash.
Each time he was convicted, he signed a document that stated he could be charged with murder if he drove under the influence again, and someone died as a result.
“The defendant was warned of the dangers of drinking and driving many times, and he chose to disregard each and every one of them,” Mulvihill said.
He also did not have a valid license at the time of the crash, she said.
“He chose to act with conscious disregard for human life in every way imaginable, and in the end, the inevitable happened,” Mulvihill said to the jury.
“And while the defendant did his best to shift the blame to avoid accountability, to act like he was the victim, while Darren was dying just feet away from him, the truth caught up with him,” she said.
Wu countered, reiterating that Underwood was “acting without thinking” on the night of the crash.
“This case is going to break your heart,” Wu told the jury, but asked them to only use facts and evidence in the current case as the basis of their decision.
“Justice means holding someone accountable for what they actually did, not convicting a person of the most extreme charge possible,” Wu said.
“We might be furious with him for doing something as stupid and dangerous as impulsively speeding, but that does not make this murder,” he said.