Crime

Woman texting when she allegedly killed Morro Bay pastor in hit-and-run, officer testifies

Emily Bales is accused hitting and killing pedestrian Dale Paulsen, while she was driving in Los Osos Nov. 18, 2018. Alcohol and texting were contributing factors according to evidence presented by prosecution at a preliminary hearing Wednesday. Bales has pleaded not guilty. Her attorney is Ilan Funke-Bilu at right.
Emily Bales is accused hitting and killing pedestrian Dale Paulsen, while she was driving in Los Osos Nov. 18, 2018. Alcohol and texting were contributing factors according to evidence presented by prosecution at a preliminary hearing Wednesday. Bales has pleaded not guilty. Her attorney is Ilan Funke-Bilu at right. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A 25-year-old Los Osos woman allegedly was texting and driving drunk when she crashed into a pastor from Morro Bay and killed him in November, launching his body on top of a 5-foot-tall row of shrubs, according to an investigating California Highway Patrol officer.

Emily Marie Bales appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing in which prosecution introduced evidence to support charges she caused the death of Dale Paulsen, 67, of Los Osos on Nov. 18, 2018.

Paulsen was walking along Ramona Avenue, east of Pine Avenue, when he was struck and killed about 5:30 p.m.

Bales has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence and felony hit and run resulting in death.

Bales was driving a 2015 Toyota Tacoma pickup after consuming five beers, in addition to a beer sample, at Baywood Tavern in Los Osos over the course of about four hours before the collision took place, California Highway Patrol Officer Fidencio Rueda said.

Rueda testified he reviewed surveillance footage from the bar and interviewed the bartender to determine the level of her alcohol consumption; Bales was visiting the bar with a female friend and ordered a salad and quesadilla.

Rueda testified that two witnesses, a husband and wife traveling in the same car behind the Tacoma when the crash occurred, stated they saw the car swerve and found Paulsen severely injured on the shrubs.

The driver fled the scene, according to the couple, who later informed authorities of the pickup truck’s description and a partial license plate number, the CHP officer testified.

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A car drives down Ramona Avenue in Los Osos, where Dale Paulsen, pastor of Morro Bay Presbyterian Church, was killed in a hit-and-run collision Nov. 18. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Sheriff’s Senior Deputy John Penaflor stopped Bales on South Bay Boulevard in Los Osos about 35 minutes after the accident, matching the witnesses’ description to the vehicle Bales was driving.

Bales told Penaflor she was planning to turn herself in, admitting an accident had occurred, he testified.

“She said she had one beer an hour (prior),” Penaflor stated.

But Bales later told Rueda she’d consumed three to four beers, the CHP officer stated.

A breathalyzer test revealed that Bales had a 0.13 percent blood alcohol level, and a second test showed a 0.12 percent blood alcohol level; the legal limit for driving in California is 0.08 percent.

“There was an odor of an alcoholic beverage, and her breath smelled,” Rueda testified. “Her eyes were red and watery. Her speech was slurred... moderately slurred.”

Rueda said Bales told him she felt the impact of hitting something, but she thought it was a “pole or something” and didn’t see what happened because she was texting at the time. No pole existed in the area where Paulsen was hit, Rueda testified.

Bales stopped to look at the damage of her truck and left the scene, later returning to the area to observe flashing lights from first responders, Rueda said she told him.

“Once she saw the lights, she said she knew someone was hit, and knew she was to blame,” Rueda said. “She drove away because she was scared.”

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Emily Bales, 25, of Los Osos pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and DUI charges for the Nov. 18, 2018, crash that killed Morro Bay Presbyterian Church pastor Dale Paulsen. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office

Rueda said the witnesses estimated Bales was driving an estimated 40 to 45 miles per hour at the time of the crash, and they stopped to find Paulsen’s body resting on top of the hedges with serious injuries and a faint pulse.

But Bales told Rueda she estimated her speed at 20 to 25 miles per hour.

Joye Carter, the Sheriff’s forensics pathologist, testified that Paulsen suffered an internal decapitation of his neck and his spine, rib fractures and a pelvis fracture, among other injuries, declaring his cause of death “multiple blunt-force traumatic injuries.”

Paulsen recently had announced his retirement from Morro Bay Presbyterian Church after serving as pastor with the church for nearly 24 years.

Defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu asked both law enforcement officials about Bales’ demeanor in the aftermath of the incident.

“She was completely cooperative,” Penaflor said. “She was remorseful.”

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Dale Paulsen, 67, served as the pastor of Morro Bay Presbyterian Church for more than 20 years. SanLuisObispo

Rueda described her as “nervous and scared.”

Funke-Bilu, in his questioning at the hearing, sought to establish that the Sheriff’s substation in Los Osos is in the vicinity of where Bales was stopped by Penaflor — suggesting she was planning to turn herself in.

Bales was turning left onto Los Olivos from South Bay Boulevard when she was stopped, Penaflor testified. The station is located at the corner of Los Olivos and 10th Street.

“We feel terrible for the victim’s family,” Funke-Bilu said after the hearing. “These are the hardest cases to try because there is pain all over. These are the worst.”

Judge Craig Van Rooyen determined sufficient evidence was presented to proceed to trial.

Bales is scheduled to appear in Van Rooyen’s court for an arraignment on June 3.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.
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