Woman who killed Morro Bay pastor while driving drunk could get a break on her sentence

A Los Osos woman who struck and killed a Morro Bay pastor while driving drunk accepted a plea deal last week that calls for more than six years in prison.

But thanks to a new voter-approved law, she could go before a parole board after serving eight months, her attorney said Thursday.

Emily Bales pleaded no contest Sept. 18 to a count of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence for the death of Dale Paulsen, 67, of Los Osos, on Nov. 18, 2018.

The felony charge carries a five-year sentencing enhancement for fleeing the scene, for a total of six years and four months in state prison, according to court records.

In exchange for her no contest plea, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office dismissed two charges related to DUI causing death and a count of hit and run resulting in injury.

She is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 21.

Testimony from first responders delivered at a preliminary hearing in May indicated Bales was texting and driving drunk when she crashed into Paulsen in November, launching his body on top of a 5-foot-tall row of shrubs.

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

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

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, a California Highway Patrol Officer testified.

After driving away from the scene, Bales was pulled over by a Sheriff’s deputy on South Bay Boulevard about 35 minutes after the collision. Bales told the deputy she was planning to turn herself in, admitting an accident had occurred, he testified.

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

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.

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

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

On Thursday, Bales’ defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu said his client is extremely remorseful for her actions.

“The DA knew that there was no way we were ever going to trial because Emily knew she was responsible,” Funke-Bilu said. “She did not want the (Paulsen) family to feel she wasn’t remorseful and wasn’t accepting responsibility.”

The attorney said that Paulsen’s widow has agreed to meet privately with Bales prior to her sentencing hearing.

“This is something that Emily and Mrs. Paulsen decided on their own,” he said. “I expect a lot of tears between families.”

A wrongful death lawsuit filed against Bales by Paulsen’s spouse settled out of court for an undisclosed amount Aug. 15, court records show.

A representative from the District Attorney’s Office wasn’t immediately available Thursday afternoon, but Funke-Bilu said that because of Proposition 57, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2016, Bales could be eligible for parole after serving eight months in prison.

The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 moves up parole consideration of non-violent offenders who have serve the full term of the sentence for their primary offense and who demonstrate that their release to the community would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community, according to the state.

“It’s my hope that Emily will be back home within eight months,” Funke-Bilu said. “But that’s completely up to the discretion of the (parole) board.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.