Hit-and-run suspect confessed to hitting dog, police say
07/20/2012 12:00 AM
10/08/2014 10:37 AM
There's not a lot that can keep Paul William Walden from getting behind the wheel.
Three arrests for driving under the influence in the last decade didn't stop him. A suspended driver's license didn't do it.
He was on the road again early Thursday in his 1987 Nissan Maxima – less than a week after his license had been suspended – as law enforcement formed a dragnet following Monday night's violent hit-and-run in Carmichael.
Shortly before 1:30 a.m., Walden, 31, pulled onto Bainbridge Drive in North Highlands, at the wheel of his Nissan with a broken left-side headlight.
Two patrol cars waited on the street, one from the California Highway Patrol and one from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. Tips from the public had led them to the general area, and the officers were musing at the time about finding the car suspected in the hit-and-run.
"The officers were talking about this vehicle and this case," CHP Officer Todd Van Lindt said Thursday. "The vehicle pulls out, and the left headlight wasn't working, so that's probable cause to make a stop."
Walden, who has a lengthy arrest record, was taken into custody on charges of driving on a suspended license and driving under the influence.
By then, the officers noticed that his car had front-end damage matching the evidence found at the scene of the hit-and-run: a missing driver's side mirror and damage to the running lights and turn signal. They figured they had found their suspect, although Walden believed at the time that he was merely being booked on another DUI, Van Lindt said.
Once they started to question him, however, he conceded he had been in an incident Monday night in Carmichael, Van Lindt said.
"He confessed to it," the officer said. "He said, 'Yeah, it was me driving.'
"It was something along the lines of, 'I saw an individual walking a dog and I thought I'd hit the dog, so I just kept going.' "
The CHP says Walden ran over a young couple in a crosswalk, severing the man's leg, severely injuring his girlfriend and killing the four dogs they were walking. Witnesses say the car was traveling at least 80 mph and never slowed.
In addition to the traffic charges, Walden faces two felony counts of hit-and-run and four felony counts of cruelty to animals. He is being held in Sacramento County jail in lieu of $135,000 bail.
Walden, who stands 5-feet-5 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds, declined to be interviewed by The Bee on Thursday.
Word of the arrest brought relief to families of the victims, 23-year-old Gemily West of Carmichael and her boyfriend, 21-year-old Harison Long-Randall of Grass Valley.
"I am so glad he was caught, so he can't hurt anyone or anything anymore," West said in a statement her family issued from Mercy San Juan Medical Center, where West was listed in good condition Thursday.
Van Lindt said he went to the hospital Thursday morning to tell West about the arrest. He did not speak to Long-Randall, who remains in critical but stable condition.
"He was basically ripped in half," his father, Chris Randall, said Thursday, adding that his son can't speak but can nod his head to communicate.
"We have out here a lot of good human beings and good Samaritans," he added, thanking neighbors for calling paramedics right away. "Without them, he would have easily bled out."
Walden, the suspect, is no stranger to Sacramento County jail. His arrest record in the county dates to July 2001, when he was first cited for drunken driving and pleaded no contest. He served 48 hours in jail and was sentenced to three years' probation.
The lesson apparently didn't take. He was cited for DUI again less than two years later and served a 10-day sentence and four years' probation.
Although Walden had other scrapes with the law – he has faced charges over the years of burglary, possessing controlled substances, grand theft and battery – he has been a regular when it comes to driving under the influence. His third DUI arrest came in 2005, when he served 135 days and got five years' probation.
His latest arrest prior to Thursday was last year, when he pleaded no contest to charges of possessing methadone pills and beating up a woman. He got 60 days in that case.
State Department of Motor Vehicle records show Walden's license has been suspended four times since 2003, the most recent suspension coming last Friday after he failed to make a court appearance.
Authorities say most people who get a DUI get the message and do not reoffend, especially because it can cost roughly $10,000 in legal and insurance costs.
But repeat offenders are not uncommon.
In Sacramento County, 1,346 people were convicted of a second DUI in 2009, the latest year for which the California Department of Motor Vehicles has figures. That year, another 375 people were convicted of their third DUI in a 10-year period, and 105 drivers got a fourth conviction.
"You see it more and more," Van Lindt said. "I've made arrests on individuals who have two or three DUIs."
The CHP listed Walden as being from North Highlands, but authorities say they are not certain about his permanent address. People at addresses listed for him in Sacramento and Carmichael said they did not know him.
His Facebook page indicates he was a member of the 1999 class at El Camino Fundamental High School, the same school where West graduated in 2007. A January post from his page indicates he is the father of a young daughter he has not seen in nearly a year and that he cannot locate the girl's mother.
"Every day that I don't see her, my heart breaks," he wrote. "I have no contact info" for the girl's mother.
Walden was divorced in 2009 after being accused of domestic violence three times in 2007 by his wife and once in 2003 by another woman, according to online court records.
There are few clues about other aspects of his life. Relatives and friends did not respond to messages left by The Bee, and the CHP said it was unclear how his car remained out of sight until his arrest Thursday.
But Van Lindt said CHP investigators are ecstatic about making an arrest in the case.
"We're extremely happy. This is the best outcome you could have," he said. "Get him off the road as quick as you can.
"He got right back in the car on a suspended license after being involved in this crash, so it feels really good."
Word of the crash and the deaths of West's four beloved Australian cattle dogs – Bindie, Evie, Winry and Zury – has touched people throughout the region. Offers of help have poured in, from people wanting to donate money and services to veterinarians saying they could store the dogs' bodies until West is released and can say goodbye.
On Thursday, as the CHP was announcing the arrest, the Greater Sacramento New Car Dealers Association said it was donating $10,000 in hopes it would persuade others to contribute to the families, as well.
HOW TO HELP
Anyone wanting to help can make out a check to the Harison Long-Randall/Gemily West Fund and send it to: Pam Dinsmore, Community Affairs Director, The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento, CA 95816.
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