Troopers searched for swerving truck before fatal 2009 crash

James Halpin

Alaska State Troopers began hunting for Thomas Lorah's erratically swerving truck along the Seward Highway more than a half-hour before he crashed head-on into another vehicle, killing one person in the other vehicle and severely injuring another last July, according to documents filed in court Wednesday.

Lorah, 28, was indicted last week on charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, first-degree assault and driving under the influence in connection with the July 26 wreck that killed Annette Knofel, 59, and seriously injured her husband, Bruce Knofel.

At his arraignment Wednesday, Lorah entered not guilty pleas to the charges. A lawyer representing him at the hearing declined to comment.

According to a bail memorandum prosecutors filed in court, Lorah had been drinking as he fished with two friends down on the Kenai Peninsula the day of the wreck.

Soon after he left the fishing site for Anchorage, motorists began calling in reports that Lorah, who was later found to have a half-empty bottle of Sailor Jerry rum and empty Coors beer cans in his vehicle, was driving erratically and aggressively, Assistant District Attorney Dan Shorey wrote in the memorandum.

Motorists reported Lorah hitting speeds in excess of 100 mph as he darted past traffic in no-passing zones, at one point running a minivan off the road, Shorey wrote.

Troopers got a call reporting Lorah as a drunken driver at 7:13 p.m. and dispatched an officer southbound from Girdwood to intercept him. Minutes later, at 7:29 p.m., troopers' dispatch in Soldotna got a report of the red Ford truck towing a boat racing on the Seward Highway.

Drivers continued to report Lorah swerving into oncoming traffic and nearly wrecking on several occasions, Shorey wrote. One witness remarked to authorities, "He's gonna kill someone."

At 7:49 p.m., The Knofels were heading home to Seward after a 10-day trip to Kodiak. As they drove south and approached a curve at Mile 87.9, Lorah's truck came around the bend in the southbound lane, Shorey wrote. Guardrails line the curve, with the Inlet to the south and the mountains to the north. There was nowhere to go for the Knofels.

Lorah jerked his truck back into the northbound lane, but still struck the Knofels' Ford Escape head-on, sending both vehicles spinning in an explosion of twisted metal and shattered glass.

Girdwood Trooper Howard Peterson, who had been headed south looking for Lorah, was the first officer on scene. He found Lorah stinking of booze with bloodshot, watery eyes, pinned in the vehicle and yelling for someone to get him out, according to court papers.

Medics cut him free from the wreckage. On his way to the hospital to be treated for minor injuries, Lorah fought with medics, Shorey wrote.

The Knofels were knocked unconscious in the wreck. After being extricated with the Jaws of Life, Bruce Knofel was taken to Alaska Regional Hospital, where he remained for a week to be treated for broken ribs, a broken radius bone, cuts and other injuries.

Ann Knofel died at 8:19 p.m.

Results of a test on a blood sample collected from Lorah in the minutes after the collision came back Dec. 28 showing his blood-alcohol level was .317, nearly four times the legal limit for driving.

Lorah was booked into the Anchorage jail Wednesday with bail set at $27,500. His trial is scheduled to begin in April.

Find James Halpin online at or call him at 257-4589.