The Alaska Court of Appeals upheld Wednesday the sentence of a man who struck a patrol car while driving the wrong way on the Glenn Highway, injuring the police officer and ending his policing career.
Gregory Fulling earned his Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of Southern Mississippi. He worked as a fisheries biologist at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) before establishing Veteran Environmental Consulting.
He is also an Air Force retiree who suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress injury, known as PTSD.
During a severe depressive episode on September 22, 2011, Fulling had “a couple of small shots of malted scotch” before going out to dinner with a co-worker. After dropping the co-worker back at the office, Fulling blacked out.
Anchorage Police Officer Randy Hughes was on patrol in Eagle River when he responded to a 1:49 AM report that someone was driving erratically on the Glenn Highway.
In fact, Fulling drove north in the southbound lanes of the Glenn Highway for 14 miles. He ran three cars off the road before colliding head-on with Hughes near Hiland Road at 1:52 AM.
Fulling’s rental car burst into flame, but he did not sustain any burns. His blood alcohol level registered .22. The legal limit is .08.
Since the accident, Fulling has completed residential alcohol treatment and outpatient substance abuse treatment programs. He also served as the chief scientist on a sea otter study related to the Buccaneer drilling project in Cook Inlet before Buccaneer went bankrupt and sold its Cook Inlet assets.
Hughes received treatment for his injuries in Seattle, but ended up with a metal hip. He still walked with a limp from a crushed foot when Fulling was sentenced in 2014.
Under a plea deal, the State agreed to dismiss Fulling’s three counts of third-degree assault for forcing the other cars off the road, but Superior Court Judge Jack Smith sentenced Fulling to eight years for injuring Hughes.
“Alaska has a significant problem with drunk drivers,” Smith said during sentencing.
“The community is becoming tired of the intoxicated driving epidemic in Alaska. It matters not whether we are talking about a high school dropout or a highly educated individual or an individual who is unemployed or employed; the risk that it costs the community and the message that’s being sent is the same.”
In a 2015 interview with the Anchorage Press about the Point Mackenzie Correctional Farm on which he worked, Fulling acknowledged that he owes a debt to society.
However, Fulling appealed his sentence as excessive and argued that his case should have been referred to a three-judge sentencing panel.
“A sentencing judge may refer a defendant’s case to a three-judge panel if the defendant proves by clear and convincing evidence that: (1) manifest injustice would result from imposition of a sentence within the presumptive range; or (2) manifest injustice would result from failure to consider a relevant non-statutory mitigating factor,” the Court of Appeals explained Wednesday in its memorandum opinion.
Smith was not clearly mistaken when he chose not to refer Fulling’s case to the panel, the Court of Appeals concluded.
While Smith found Fulling’s prospects for rehabilitation to be “very good,” Fulling had an alcohol-related misdemeanor assault in 2007 when he tried to punch a police officer. Smith said the nature of alcoholism meant that Fulling could be involved in another dangerous incident like that on the Glenn Highway.
“Based on these considerations, the judge found that manifest injustice would not result from a sentence within the presumptive range and further found that it would be manifestly unjust to not sentence Fulling to a sentence within the presumptive range,” the Court of Appeals wrote.
Fulling’s eight-year sentence fell within the presumptive range of seven to 11 years.
His case highlights a debate that raged in the legislature during the last session and became an attack ad staple in the recent election.
Last year, the legislature passed SB 91, which lowered a variety of presumptive sentences. The presumptive sentence range for a first-time felony offender who uses a dangerous instrument or targets a peace officer was lowered to five to nine years.
SB 91 was part of a sweeping criminal justice reform package aimed at cutting costs to the State through reduced incarceration times for low-risk offenders and people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems like Fulling.
Public safety officials have largely been opposed to SB 91 as too lenient.
After Fulling’s sentencing in 2014, Hughes told KTVA, “We have a very serious problem with DUIs here in Anchorage, and something needs to happen. There needs to be more that makes people think harder about getting in that car and driving drunk. We need a deterrent.”
Following his early retirement from APD, Hughes worked as a security supervisor for Shell before taking his current job of Security Manager for NANA Management Services.
“I’ve got to be able to move on and live my life as happy as possible, and I’ve got to be able to allow him to heal himself, and that’s all part of it,” Hughes said of Fulling. “It’s just the way I was brought up.”