Mary Tilden, 38, pleads in car chase, theft, and trespassing cases

Mar 9, 2017

Mary Tilden pleaded guilty to felony failure to stop at the direction of a police officer, as well as theft and trespassing at a Wednesday hearing. 

On John Tugatuk Rd. the morning after the car chase, waiting on an investigation
Mary Tilden, 38, was arrested following a dangerous high speed pursuit Nov. 17.
Credit DPD

A woman who led law enforcement on a high speed chase between Dillingham and Aleknagik was sentenced to seven months in jail Wednesday with credit for time served.  38-year-old Mary Tilden pleaded guilty to felony failure to stop at the direction of a police officer, as well as theft and trespassing.

Tilden was involved in a host of criminal activity last fall, culminating in the dangerous car chase. In late October, Tilden and Manuel Brito,23, were discovered squatting in the summer home of a commercial fisherman, whose property was stolen, sold, and damaged. On November 10, Tilden took a bank card and used it to steal over $500. And on November 17, when Dillingham police attempted to pull her over to serve her a warrant, she led them on the high-speed chase over icy roads between Dillingham and Aleknagik for close to two hours. The chase finally ended when Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Luis Nieves discharged his weapon and Trooper David Eastwood-Koleszar ran Tilden off the road with his vehicle. Tilden was taken into custody where she has remained.

Sergeant Nieves was one of five members of law enforcement who testified at Wednesday’s change-of-plea hearing. He describes how he felt as Tilden drove her car toward him during the chase.

“We make eye contact. I’m pleading with her to stop, and she heads right towards me to the point that I’m pretty much convinced I’m going to die,” said Nieves. “Luckily, I’m able to side step. She strikes my vehicle. I injure my elbow. I end up using deadly force, which I’m still living with and struggling with. She turns around, continues on, forcing Trooper Koleszar to use a form of deadly force by using his vehicle to push her vehicle off the road. Trooper Koleszar is also a victim in this.”

Nieves urged the judge to consider Tilden’s history with law enforcement when making her judgement.

Four other members of law enforcement testified. Trooper Eastwood-Koleszar, Dillingham Chief of Police, Dan Pasquariello, Dillingham Probation Supervisor, Rex Spofford, and Colonel James Cockrell, Director of Alaska State Troopers all asked that the court not accept the change-of-plea.

Cockrell called into the hearing to testify.

“I kind of see it the same way as the troopers in your court room and the chief of police of Dillingham,” said Cockrell. “It seems to me that, in this case, that this offender is not being held accountable for her actions in endangering the lives, not only of the police officers involved in the pursuit, but the citizens of Dillingham. I agree I don’t think we should accept the Rule 11 agreement.”

Spofford said this was the first time in his 25 years of service that he has testified that he is not supportive of an agreement offered by the District Attorney’s office.

“I would ask that the court not accept the agreement as is tendered. It is outside of anything I have seen crafted in response to such an incident. And Colonel Cockrell commented on something that’s very important not only in our state, but in our nation, and that’s the devaluation of police officers’ lives,” said Spofford.

For the events on November 17, Tilden was originally charged with two counts of assault in the third degree, and attempted murder in the second degree in addition to the charges she pleaded guilty to today, but those charges were dismissed at a preliminary hearing due to a lack of evidence. For squatting in the fisherman’s summer home last fall, she was originally charged with criminal trespass in the first degree and vehicle theft in the first degree.

Assistant District Attorney Pamela Dale said that the state is limited by evidence in which charges it can prosecute.

“There’s a lot of evidence in this case, and it does not support prosecuting those assaults,” said Dale. “We did not come up with this deal to save the state money for going to trial. We go to trial all the time on much lesser cases, and if the evidence was there to prosecute these assaults, we would.”

In regard to Tilden taking up residence in the fisherman’s summer home, the explanation for reduced charges was similar. Dale said that there is no evidence to prove that Tilden is responsible for the theft or property damage.

“We are restricted by the evidence, not by what we all know Ms. Tilden did,” Dale explained.

With some reluctance, Judge Tina Reigh agreed to the deal.

“My hesitation is likely very clear, but, considering the case law and considering what is before the court and what the state has decided to charge, I find that this meets the Chaney criteria for that particular charge, and I will accept it.”

Reigh made it clear that the court unable to consider charges that have been dismissed.

"Uniform or not, any victim of a crime who is in the position of the folks in this room, where they clearly believe, and it sounds well founded to the court that they have been a victim, and then the state says that it’s not going forward, that’s heart wrenching for any person who has been the victim of a crime,” said Reigh. “What the court looks at in this situation is what’s being charged and what is part of this agreement. The court does not have any discretion whatsoever about what the charges are or what charges will remain.”

When given the opportunity to address the court, Tilden chose not to speak.

Tilden is still in custody at the Dillingham Corrections Center. She is scheduled for release March 28 of this year. Upon release Tilden will receive 3 years of felony probation. 21 months of jail time were suspended pending completion of the supervised release. 

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.