An Anchorage man and reality TV star has pleaded not guilty to first-degree auto theft and driving under the influence in an Aug. 4 incident in which Alaska State Troopers found the man pinned under a crashed car that turned out to have been stolen from Homer.
Homer Police and Alaska State Troopers on Aug. 11 charged the man, Tyler D. Johnson, 38, with first-degree vehicle theft and driving under the influence — but not before discovering Johnson had been discharged from South Peninsula Hospital after being treated for injuries in the crash involving a stolen red 2000 Toyota Echo. Troopers said that Johnson did not wear a seatbelt and the crash ejected him from the Toyota.
Johnson has appeared in the National Geographic Channel reality television show “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” where he competed with Team Mountaineers.
Police and troopers had a warrant to arrest Johnson, but at a hearing Aug. 19 and on a motion from Johnson’s Anchorage attorney, John Cashion, Homer Judge Margaret Murphy canceled the warrant and held an out-of-custody arraignment. Murphy set a $1,000 cash performance bond for Johnson. Cashion said his client had heard of the charges and asked Cashion to file a motion to quash the warrants and request an arraignment.
In a case that crosses city and trooper boundaries, police allege Johnson stole the Toyota Echo from the Homer Spit sometime after 10:45 p.m. Aug. 3. Troopers discovered the stolen car when at about 12:30 a.m. Aug. 4 they went to a car crash near Mile 165 Sterling Highway north of Homer and found Johnson pinned under the Toyota.
In a criminal complaint, Trooper John Probst said the Toyota had rolled down an embankment and into the brush. Bystanders were helping Johnson, and Anchor Point Emergency Medical Services medics had responded. Johnson had blood on his face, smelled of alcohol and was conscious and alert with slurred speech, Probst wrote. Medics transported Johnson to the hospital with possible major injuries.
Probst said Johnson told him he had been drinking at the Salty Dawg with a man from Tennessee and they got drunk. The man gave him a ride in a red car to get his pickup truck in Anchor Point, Johnson said. The Tennessee man ran away from the car crash, Johnson claimed.
Homer Police investigated the car theft. After contacting the registered owner, a Homer woman, they determined she had recently sold it to a Homer man with an address of a Spit restaurant. Police contacted the man’s son at the Spit restaurant. The son said his father bought the Toyota for him. The son said he had parked the car in front of the restaurant with the keys in the ignition.
“So many of the vehicles that get stolen in Homer have the keys in the car,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl. “It’s almost every time. It’s nearly impossible to hot-wire a modern vehicle.”
Probst and Homer Police Officer Nathan Hull interviewed Johnson at the hospital. Johnson said he flew into Homer about 10 p.m. and walked toward the Spit. He remembered a construction flagger with a long beard saying hello to him. He then hitchhiked to the Salty Dawg and got drunk with the guy who picked him up. Troopers later got a search warrant for Johnson’s hospital records. A blood test showed he had a blood alcohol level of .204 percent, troopers said.
Police interviewed a bartender at the Salty Dawg, and she said she remembered a man with a Kentucky driver’s license picked up Johnson and brought him to the bar and that Johnson used an ATM at the bar and bought lots of drinks. She said she remembered Johnson leaving alone because she had asked him how he was going to get home.
Officer Hull interviewed a flagger who said he remembered seeing a guy walking by he identified as Johnson from a driver’s license photo. Without being asked, the flagger said he later saw the same guy go by driving a small red car. The flagger said he was sure because the driver in the red car had to stop in front of him and wait for a pilot car. He said Johnson was alone in the car.
Police did not arrest Johnson on Aug. 4 because he was being treated. Hull said police contacted the hospital and asked them to call police when Johnson was released. On Aug. 6, police called the hospital and determined Johnson had been discharged. Robl said there had been some miscommunication between police and the hospital and couldn’t say whose fault it was that police were not notified.
The hospital can disclose some limited patient information without patient authorization to police, said SPH spokesperson Derotha Ferraro. That disclosure is not mandatory, and staff are not legally required to comply with a request from police or troopers of the time and date of a patient’s discharge.
Johnson had two separate case and charges against him, the theft charge filed by Homer Police and the DUI charge filed by Alaska State Troopers. Police and troopers cooperated in the investigation. Cashion, Johnson’s attorney, said the charges have since been consolidated into one case.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.