Hit-and-run attack by driver 'fast ... horrific,' victim says

ldemer@adn.comJune 3, 2013 

The couple had closed down Pipers Sports Lounge in Spenard and were on a long walk home early Saturday when the red sedan pulled up and -- within moments, police said -- ran them down.

Nicholas Philemonoff and his girlfriend, April Merculief, both 34, were seriously injured by the car that hit them and drove away.

Philemonoff suffered a broken ankle repaired with pins and a brace screwed into his bones. He was discharged from the hospital Monday. Merculief, who was hit harder and dragged under the car, remained in critical condition at Alaska Native Medical Center on Monday. She's sedated with a severe head injury, shattered hips, a cracked neck, and cuts and bruises all over.

For her family, it's a terrible jolt back to the tragedy of her sister, who was brain injured in a car crash, then later beaten to death in 2001 in Anchorage.

Anchorage police revealed Monday that around 8:15 a.m. Saturday, they found an abandoned red car behind the Credit Union 1 on Abbott Road that matches the description Philemonoff gave.

Detectives are conducting a forensic search of the impounded vehicle, said Dani Myren, a police spokeswoman. They also are collecting video from security cameras where the car was found and where the couple was run down, she said. Police are not disclosing other aspects of the investigation for now, she said.

Philemonoff and Merculief are from the Bering Sea island of St. Paul, where they met as young children in the Head Start program, he said. Now they have three children, ages 3, 5 and 7. They had been in Anchorage staying temporarily with one of his sisters while taking care of health issues.

They had planned to return to St. Paul next week. Philemonoff is a halibut fisherman and was supposed to be on a boat this month. But those plans are interrupted. He can't put weight on his healing left leg and ankle for two months. And Merculief, though able to respond to visitors, remains in intensive care at the hospital. The family has set up an account at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union for people who want to help.

The couple was heading east along International Airport Road toward his sister's apartment near Lake Otis Parkway. They were off the road in a parking area between Arctic Boulevard and C Street when the red car pulled up sometime around 4:30 a.m.

"We were holding hands, walking down the road, actually, the parking lot," Philemonoff said.

Two men got out.

"We never seen them before in our life. They start advancing on April or whatever, saying something about 'your woman.' "

Philemonoff said he replied, "F- you."

"What did you say?" one of the men asked.

He repeated himself.

Then the two men got back in the car, and, according to police and Philemonoff, the driver deliberately ran the couple down.

"It was that fast, that simple and that horrific," he said.

Merculief was on his left side, and he was trying to pull her to the right as they saw the car headlights come at them. He was able to dodge a direct blow but the car ran over his foot and threw him down. His girlfriend ended up "right in the center of the car," he said.

"She got hit and tumbled underneath it, got dragged," Philemonoff said. "It was horrible. I watched it, because I was on the ground."

He tried to run after the car to get the license tag number but couldn't move very well because of his ankle.

"It was surreal. You never think something like that would happen to you. You were just having a nice walk home with your girl."

Police have described the driver as a black male with buzz cut hair, around 5-feet-7 inches tall and 30 years old.

Merculief's mother, Olga, said the family anxiously waited out eight hours of surgeries on Saturday. Since then she has been in her daughter's intensive care room almost constantly.

Her daughter is mildly sedated. When she wakes up, she reacts excitedly when she sees her mother as well as her boyfriend. She has a breathing tube and can't talk but can move her arms and legs.

"The nurse asked her to do two thumbs up yesterday. She done that," the mother said. "They are very impressed with her movements and her progress."

Olga Merculief is still coming to grips with what happened. Her daughter's scalp was torn back. At the hospital, surgeons had to remove part of her skull to relieve brain swelling.

She can't help but harken back to the tragedy of another daughter, Caroline, who was troubled and sometimes violent after a bad car crash when she was a young woman. A couple of years later, on June 10, 2001, she was trying to get drugs when a group of teenage girls and a 20-year-old man turned on her and beat her, the prosecutor said at the time. She was unusually susceptible to injury because of a metal plate in her head and died. Her attackers served little time in jail, her family said.

Seeing April with stitches in her scalp, recovering from a brain injury, "I feel like I saw Caroline all over again," Olga Merculief said. "The second one for me."

With Caroline, the family didn't feel justice was done, she said. With April, they want whoever did it caught and held accountable.

 

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.