An all-day standoff between Alaska State Troopers, Kotzebue police and an armed suspect ended around 6 p.m. Sunday with the suspect dead, apparently at his own hand, troopers said.
A shootout early in the incident left one trooper seriously injured and another one wounded by a round or shrapnel, troopers said.
Troopers identified the dead man as Arvid Nelson Jr. of Kotzebue.
The situation unfolded on Ted Stevens Way just east of town between what locals call first bridge and second bridge.
The incident began after 9 a.m. when dispatchers got a call that a vehicle had struck the guard rail on Ted Stevens Way. One witness said the truck's front wheel was off. A passerby told authorities the driver had brandished a weapon, trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said. At 9:15 a.m., Kotzebue police asked troopers for help with the situation.
Two troopers began to approach the suspect, who was in a white pickup truck, said Joe Evans, Kotzebue city attorney, who witnessed much of the action. The troopers were walking slowly alongside a law enforcement vehicle with open doors that they used as shields, Evans said.
Almost immediately, someone started shooting at the troopers from inside the vehicle, Ipsen said.
The troopers and Kotzebue police fired back, she said, but she wasn't sure if the suspect was struck in that initial exchange of gunfire.
Witnesses said they could see bullet holes in the truck windshield. The man in the vehicle shot first, Ipsen said.
One trooper fell to the ground and was helped to safety by another officer. He was medically evacuated to a hospital in Anchorage.
"He's going to be all right," Ipsen said.
The other trooper didn't realize he was hurt until someone else noticed he was bleeding, Evans said. Ipsen said a round or shrapnel grazed his head and that he was treated and released at a clinic in Kotzebue.
A MAN DISTRAUGHT
Efforts to speak with Nelson's family were not successful Sunday evening. Several residents said he was a local hunter and trapper well-known around town who had been having domestic problems.
For hours, the suspect remained barricaded inside his vehicle, Ipsen said. While authorities closed off the road, people gathered near barricades at both ends to observe and some people watched from residences or other nearby buildings. A number took photos. Some shot video.
Because both troopers fired back, Ipsen said, their names will not be released for three days, which is standard for officer-involved shootings.
The Kotzebue airport was closed to non-emergency traffic during the incident. The runway is near Ted Stevens Way.
An Alaska Airlines jet that normally makes an afternoon flight from Anchorage to Nome then Kotzebue was grounded in Nome, company spokesman Paul McElroy said. Twenty-two passengers were stranded in Nome and another 42 were in Kotzebue trying to get back to Anchorage, he said. An Alaska Airlines evening flight to Kotzebue already was full but the airline expected to get travelers to their destinations on Monday, he said.
CHIEF RUSHES TO SCENE
Evans, the city attorney, said he was having Sunday morning breakfast with Police Chief Craig Moates, who was off duty, when the chief got a call on his cellphone. Evans said he understood the chief was told shots had been fired.
They rushed out of the Bayside Inn with their breakfasts half eaten and their bill unpaid, Evans said. Evans rode with the chief in his personal vehicle. Moates parked it perpendicularly to block the road and turned people away. They stayed inside the vehicle monitoring the situation, Evans said.
The two men watched the troopers as they walked toward the truck.
"They were trying to inch up on his vehicle," Evans said. Then they heard a volley of gunfire.
"Shots fired!" Evans exclaimed. He told the chief a trooper appeared to be down.
The chief decided not to try to approach the suspect again without more help, Evans said. Members of a tactical team from Southcentral Alaska flew from Anchorage to Kotzebue to resolve the situation, Ipsen said. The Southcentral Special Emergency Reaction Team is made up primarily of troopers, she said.
A witness, Jim Magdanz said the team got to the scene about 3 p.m. Around 4:45 p.m., a dump truck that appeared to have tactical team members on board and a front-end loader began moving toward the suspect's vehicle, Magdanz said.
He said more shots were fired from the dump truck into the pickup truck in the late afternoon and that officers may have been simply trying to shatter the windows to get a view inside.
Around 6 p.m., the standoff ended. Troopers said they were able to approach the vehicle and find the subject dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Troopers with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation were headed to Kotzebue to investigate what happened, Ipsen said.
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.