Undem pleads not guilty in Kent vehicular assault case

With Alan Undem's 17 arrests over the last eight years, court appearances have been commonplace for the 29-year-old Renton man. Undem appeared Tuesday in King County Superior Court in Kent to plead not guilty to a felony charge of vehicular assault in connection with a T-bone collision Sept. 8 on Kent's East Hill that has left his passenger, a Renton man, 27, hospitalized for two weeks in serious condition.

Alan Undem

Alan Undem

With Alan Undem's 17 arrests over the last eight years, court appearances have been commonplace for the 29-year-old Renton man.

Undem appeared Tuesday in King County Superior Court in Kent to plead not guilty to a felony charge of vehicular assault in connection with a T-bone collision Sept. 8 on Kent's East Hill that has left his passenger, a Renton man, 27, hospitalized for two weeks in serious condition.

Many of Undem's earlier court appearances were for theft, possession of stolen property, malicious mischief and other misdemeanors. Those types of crimes result in jail sentences of less than year even with a lengthy criminal record.

“Almost all of his charges are gross misdemeanors,” said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, in a Tuesday phone interview. “When we get convictions for those, we very rarely get more than a handful of days in jail. Even when someone has built up a record, the maximum we can ask for is a year. But the maximum is rarely given for those type of charges.”

Goodhew said someone who receives a one-year sentence typically serves about two-thirds of the sentence in jail because they get time off for good behavior.

“Even if he (Undem) had received maximum sentences that would not prevent him from being out of custody,” Goodhew said.

If convicted of vehicular assault, Undem faces a sentence of 12 to 14 months, Goodhew said. Undem remained in custody Tuesday at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Bail is set at $250,000.

Undem is scheduled to return to court Oct. 5 in Kent when a trial date could be set or attorneys from either side could ask for more time to prepare the case.

King County prosecutors allege that on Sept. 8 Undem was driving a Volvo sedan and under the influence of both legal and illegal drugs when he lost control of his car while driving south in the northbound lane of the 23500 block of 132nd Avenue Southeast.

Jacob Sherman, the passenger, was trapped inside the car, unconscious and critically injured with probable internal bleeding and broken bones, according to charging papers. King County medics transported the passenger to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Sherman remained in serious condition in the intensive care unit Sept. 21, said a Harborview spokeswoman.

The Volvo, traveling about 50 mph, crossed over the double yellow lines to the opposite side of the street, hit a raised cement curb and struck a road sign before the passenger side of the Volvo collided with the front end of an oncoming Kent School District truck that was delivering meals to local schools. The delivery-truck driver was uninjured.

Police officers found Undem outside of his car with non-life threatening injuries. Undem reportedly was disoriented, exhibiting signs of intoxication.

Undem told officers he had taken the prescription drugs citalopram, Seroquel, hydroxyzine, trazodone and methamphetamine as well as marijuana, according to charging papers. He told officers he took trazodone, an antidepressant, for “intermittent explosive disorder,” which is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme expressions of anger.

Despite Undem's lengthy record that includes arrests for fourth-degree assault in 2008, third-degree theft, false statement and third-degree malicious mischief all in 2007, and obstruction and possession of stolen property in 2002 and numerous driving infractions, the Renton man thus far has avoided any long jail sentences.

The state's three-strikes-and-you-are-out law applies only to felonies and not to misdemeanors, so Undem's record did not fall under those guidelines, Goodhew said.

The state's three-strikes law mandates life in prison after conviction on any three of about 40 felonies, from murder to robbery to rape and vehicular assault.

So if Undem is convicted of vehicular assault that will count as Strike 1 under the three-strikes law, unlike his previous offenses.

“Our three-strikes law is one of the most conservative in the country,” Goodhew said. “It's only the serious violent offenders. The lowest it goes is robbery in the second degree and assault in the second degree.”

Undem did not even have a driver's license with him when he drove Sept. 8 in Kent, according to charging papers. He had a suspended license. But that did not stop him from driving.

“That's quite common that someone is still out driving (with a suspended license),” Goodhew said. “We do the best we can to prosecute. But we do not have the ability to prevent someone from driving.”

Meanwhile, the seriousness of the injuries suffered by the victim in a vehicular assault case can increase the sentence.

“If it is a serious type of injury, we can ask the court for a longer sentence,” Goodhew said. “That may happen in this case.”

But each case is different, and sometimes it takes doctors a long time before they know the prognosis for a patient injured in a car accident, Goodhew said.

A driver, however, can be charged with vehicular assault whether an injury is long-lasting or not.


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