Court orders extradition of man to face charges over fatal US crash

Warrant issued for Samuel Joseph Tucker after young woman died in Florida crash

A US police poster seeking the arrest of Samuel Joseph Tucker.

A US police poster seeking the arrest of Samuel Joseph Tucker.

 

The High Court has ordered the extradition of a 23-year-old man wanted in the United States to face a manslaughter charge after a high-speed single-vehicle sports car crash which claimed the life of a young woman.

Samuel Joseph Tucker, with an address at Lorida, Florida was arrested in Mayfield, Cork in August 2018 on foot of an extradition request issued by US authorities.

On September 26th, 2017, a warrant was issued in Florida for Mr Tucker’s arrest, while an extradition request was made on May 3rd, 2018.

Mr Tucker is wanted to stand trial in the US on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and ‘DUI manslaughter’ after the car he was allegedly driving, a 2017 Maserati Ghibli, crashed in the early hours of June 24th, 2017, in Highlands County, Florida.

The accident claimed the life of 22-year-old Ms Alyssa Kay Vice, who was a passenger in the car at the time and was pronounced dead at 3.47am that morning.

The car was travelling at 127mp/h when it hit a pole and subsequently flipped four times, while it was travelling up to 140mp/h during the last five seconds before it hit the pole.

It is alleged that Mr Tucker’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.162g/dL, twice the legal Florida drink driving limit.

The court heard an affidavit grounding the extradition application states that, minutes before the crash, a witness, who was with Mr Tucker and Ms Vice, told the police she had asked to be let out the car as Mr Tucker was driving at speeds of between 150 and 170mph.

Counts one and two of the US warrant charge Mr Tucker of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 grams/dL of blood or more resulting in property damage, with each count carrying a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment.

Count three of the warrant charges Mr Tucker with driving under the influence manslaughter, which carries a minimum sentence of four years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Simon Donagh BL, for Mr Tucker, had previously submitted that there was no corresponding offence in Ireland to driving under the influence manslaughter because of the absence of “mens rea”, or intent, in the US which breached his client’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.

Mr Donagh had argued: “More serious offences like dangerous driving causing death all require some element of mens rea if prosecuted in Ireland but the law in the US seems to replace the concept of mens rea with intoxication.”

A State normally does not surrender someone unless the offence they are sought for has an equivalent or corresponds to one in their own law.

But, in a 22-page written judgement, Mr Justice McDermott rejected this argument and said he doesn’t believe that Mr Tucker’s right to a fair trial would be compromised “in any way” by his extradition.

Mr Justice McDermott said: “The court does not accept the proposition that the absence of ‘mens rea’ renders it inappropriate to accede to this extradition request because no intention or recklessness or mental element is required in order to secure a conviction under Florida law. In both jurisdictions the emphasis is on the blameworthy nature of the driving causing death.”

He also said: “The test in relation to whether an offence corresponds with an offence in this State is largely factually to conduct based.”

He further added: “The focus of the court must not be on the technical definition of the Florida offence but on the factual basis upon which the offence is based and extradition is sought and whether such facts correspond with an offence under Irish law.”

The judge said he was satisfied that the elements of the “driving under the influence” count on the Florida warrant would provide the basis for a prosecution on a charge of criminal negligence or gross negligence manslaughter in Ireland.

Mr Justice McDermott said that “at the core of each form of charge is the concept of blameworthy driving causing death.

“I am therefore satisfied that the offence of ‘driving under the influence manslaughter’ as laid against Mr Tucker corresponds with the offence of manslaughter under Irish law,” he said.

Mr Tucker had also argued his life would be at risk should he be extradited to the US.

In an affidavit, Mr Tucker claimed individuals had sought information about him from his employees and that there was a “bounty” on his head in exchange for information.

He also alleged that a group of hooded people gathered outside his house and carried fire arms and that, a number of days later, he was shot at - with the shot grazing his shoulder.

He claims to have left the US for Ireland a week after this alleged incident.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott found: “I do not accept this evidence is a sufficient basis upon which to refuse extradition.” He also found these allegations lacked “cogency and detail required to justify a refusal of extradition on that basis.”

It’s not yet known if Mr Tucker will appeal the decision.