Man dies after driving vehicle over Eklutna embankment

Lisa Demer

A man died early Tuesday after he drove his 2003 Chevy Tahoe over a steep embankment on Eklutna Lake Road near the water treatment plant, say police, who are investigating the possibility of suicide.

Johnny David Chrestman, 35, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A worker at the treatment plant saw the vehicle accelerate to get over a concrete barricade and then plunge down the 386-foot embankment, police spokeswoman Anita Shell said. It happened around Mile 2 of Eklutna Lake Road.

The erratic driving appeared to be intentional, but police can't be sure until the Tahoe is examined, she said.

"I stop right short of saying it's a suicide until they absolutely confirm there wasn't anything mechanically wrong with that vehicle," Shell said.

Chrestman and his girlfriend were at the Flight Deck Bar & Lounge Monday night. He had a lot to drink, so the bartender took his keys, Shell said. They took a cab home but seemed happy when they left, said Shell, who talked with the bartender Tuesday.

Earlier reports that they had been fighting in the bar and were kicked out apparently were incorrect, she said.

However, after they got home, they had an argument in the yard overheard by neighbors, Shell said.

Chrestman left home in the Tahoe. The keys taken by the bartender belonged to a different vehicle, which was left at the bar.

Around 7:10 a.m. Tuesday, the water plant worker called police to report the crash. He could see an adult face down in the Eklutna River at the bottom of the cliff. The water is about 2 feet deep.

Officers had to fly in to the crash site. They landed on Alaska State Troopers Helo 1 helicopter about 25 minutes after the call.

Shell said she wasn't sure how authorities will get the crashed vehicle back up the cliff.

Chrestman had a troubled life. His relationship with his girlfriend, the mother of his two children, was sometimes violent, court records show. He was convicted of domestic violence assault in 2007.

In that case, the girlfriend told police they had been out drinking and when they returned, he was upset because he could not find any drugs, according to a criminal complaint. They argued, he grabbed her by the feet and dragged her into a hallway, where he put his foot on her throat, according to the police account.

She got restraining orders against him several times in 2007 and again in December 2008.

Chrestman also was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2005. The victim in that case was male, according to court records.

He has a record of traffic and minor criminal offenses, several of them alcohol-related, going back to his teenage years.

Chrestman leaves behind an infant and a 4-year-old.

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