A jury has found a Fremont man guilty of killing his friend three years ago when he lost control of his car after a night of drinking and crashed and shot his friend out.
In addition to second-degree murder, Tyler Underwood, 34, was convicted of all other charges of crimes filed against him by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, including child abuse, because his 4-year-old daughter was sitting in the car at the time.
The jury handed down its verdict on November 23 at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin after an approximately four-week trial.
During the trial, Deputy Prosecutor Abigail Mulvihill painted Underwood as a man who consistently ignored risks, tried to evade responsibility and acted with “deliberate disregard for human life”, part of the legal standard of a murder charge.
Deputy Public Defender Michael Wu pleaded with the jury to instead see the crash and the death of his friend Darren Walker as a tragic accident. He claimed the murder charge was too extreme.
“We are deeply disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” Wu said in a statement to this news organization.
“Ultimately, we all agree that this was an accident. We should all question why we as a society can feel that murder,” he said.
Wu said Underwood “would never put his daughter in a situation he actually thought was dangerous.”
Underwood was also convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and for exceeding the legal alcohol limit while injuring others on the night of the accident. He had five previous DUI-related convictions on his record.
He was also convicted of two offenses, including driving with a driver’s license revoked for previous DUI charges, as well as two offenses, including one for driving over 100 mph.
On October 9, 2018, Underwood drove his gray BMW sedan south on Interstate 680 with a woman in the passenger seat and his daughter and Walker in the back seat. They were on their way to get food at Milpitas along with two other friends of Underwood, who were in a silver Audi.
Underwood hurried past his friend in the other car as they raced as he lost control and rolled his BMW down a dam about a mile north of Scott Creek Road in Fremont.
In late October 2018, Underwood claimed in a video posted on his Facebook account that his tires exploded and caused the crash. During the trial, Wu told the jury that a “surprising dive” in the road was the cause of the crash.
Walker was thrown from the car and died along the dam, about 50 feet from where the BMW came to rest, authorities said earlier. No one in any of the cars mentioned Walker to California Highway Patrol officers, who responded to the crash that night but did not detect Walker’s body.
Wu told jurors that none of them knew where Walker was, and assumed he had gone because he did not want to have contact with police.
Because of his DUI-related beliefs, prosecutors said Underwood asked Audience passengers to lie to authorities and tell them he was driving Underwood’s car. The passenger complied, and the CHP did not find Walker’s body until the next day, when his mother called and told him he was sitting in the car with Underwood and had not returned home that night.
Underwood eventually told police he was driving the car and that he first lied because he was afraid he might lose custody of his daughter.
“When Tyler was driving, did he deliberately disregard human life? No, of course not. Because the roads were empty, it was late, this part of the highway was straight, the weather was clear, and he was driving like that for a few seconds,” Wu told the jury.
“Tyler thought he would have a laugh, go and get food and go home with his baby,” Wu said.
Although Underwood admitted to having drunk that night and driving too fast, Wu said it was ruthless mistake.
He claimed Underwood was not intoxicated and questioned the test methods used to determine his blood alcohol content, which authorities said was almost double the legal limit about 90 minutes after the crash.
“This is not murder. No one in the whole world is more important to Tyler than this little girl,” he said.
Mulvihill disproved that Underwood knew of the risk of driving under the influence of alcohol because of his previous convictions.
She asked the jury, during her closing arguments, to “look through all the smoke and mirrors” the defense used to complicate a simple case.
“It doesn’t matter how much the defendant loved his daughter, it doesn’t matter how much he loved his friends,” Mulvihill said. “His actions on October 9, 2018 did not show that,” she said.
‘He was driving under the influence. He knew the act was dangerous, for god’s sake he knows better than anyone in this courtroom. And someone died. It’s murder, ”Mulvihill said.
Teresa Gutierrez, the grandmother of Underwood’s daughter, said in an interview Wednesday that she was happy with the verdict.
“I’m glad he’s finally facing the music. Because he has slipped through for so long, ”she said.
“I’m sure he did not want that for his friend,” she said, but Underwood bears the responsibility.
Gutierrez said she is sad that the child, who is now 7, probably does not want his father in his life.
“She’s practicing cheerleading now, she has to practice softball,” Gutierrez said, “and he wants to miss everything in her life because of a stupid decision.”
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