Unrelated paths chanced to cross in Fifth Avenue crashes

Lisa Demer
MEGAN HOLLAND / Anchorage Daily News

A couple walking to dinner on a beautiful spring evening. A horse-drawn carriage driver waiting for a fare and chatting with a pedestrian. A woman, who police say was impaired, driving a big white Dodge truck. Another young woman in a Volkswagen Jetta.

Saturday night in downtown Anchorage, their paths crossed in a chain of crashes near the Glacier Brewhouse. For a spell, the scene was mayhem, a woman buried under the ruins of the carriage, passersby smashing the window of the still-running truck. Now one woman is in jail and another is hospitalized.

It was about 8 p.m. Cassi Rochin, 24, had parked the carriage and Bud, a one-ton draft horse, on Fifth Avenue in front of the Brewhouse, a regular waiting spot. She was standing there with Gregory Jack, who had stopped to ask about the horse and carriage as people often do.

Nancy Jo Upthagrove, 45, and her boyfriend, Mark Rayburn, were walking across downtown to dinner. She's an accountant who had worked all day closing the month's books, and was ready for some exercise.

"It's just a gorgeous evening," Rayburn said.

Then, a loud bang jarred everyone on the street.

The Dodge Dakota pickup truck rear-ended the Volkswagen exiting the Westmark Hotel parking lot across the street, Rayburn said.

"The truck just revs, the engine just revs, you can just hear it race. And it crashes back into the rear of that small car in front and just starts shoving it across the roadway," Rayburn said.

Upthagrove bolted.

"I tried to run out of the way. And evidently I ran right into the way," she said.

Rochin, standing there with Bud the horse and Jack the pedestrian, had her eyes on the big white truck driven by Shannon Haggitt, 25.

"I just saw her coming, and she made no attempt to turn or anything and was just coming straight at us," Rochin said. She thought the truck might ram the horse. It all happened so fast it's hard to be sure but she thinks she pulled Bud ahead a couple of feet.

Then, wham! The Dodge plowed into the carriage, jerking the horse onto the sidewalk. The mostly wooden carriage splintered. Part of the wreckage hit Jack, who told police his leg was hurt. He went to the hospital.

But Upthagrove got the worst of it.

"The carriage is what hit her. The carriage is what broke the ribs," Rayburn said. Upthagrove flew into the glass front of the Brewhouse entrance and was briefly buried under the carriage debris.

"I'm watching her and she just flies back into that window," Rayburn said. "She was in a seated position underneath all of that rubble."

Rayburn helped move Upthagrove out of the way.

The truck engine was still revving. The driver seemed out of it. Some thought she was having a seizure.

Passersby grabbed wood from the wrecked carriage, bashed out a window of the truck and turned off the engine, Rochin said.

She and another carriage driver unhooked Bud, walked him up the block, and checked him over.

"He was a very good boy. He stayed as calm as he possibly could," Rochin said.

Police tried to question Haggitt but couldn't get good information. Asked what day it was, she said "2008," according to a document filed in court. She struggled with field sobriety tests. She gave contradictory information on whether she had been drinking.

But she passed a breath test, according to prosecutor Clint Campion.

The investigation is continuing. Officers believe Haggitt was impaired by something other than alcohol, Campion said. Authorities are awaiting blood test results and will seek her medical records, he said.

Haggitt was arrested and is being held at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center on charges of driving under the influence and assault. Her defense lawyer, Jeff Robinson, declined to comment.

Upthagrove is at Alaska Regional Hospital. She said the incident left her with four broken ribs, a laceration to her liver, internal bleeding, and a gash to her head. She can eat only ice chips and is not sure when she'll get out. She is canceling out-of-state trips. She wonders what's in store for the summer, when she usually works out of Denali National Park for contractor Aramark.

Jon Nauman, owner of the Horse-Drawn Carriage Co., is fretting about the destruction of what he said is a 120-year-old antique carriage from France, one of the most popular in his fleet. He said Bud seems fine but may have suffered bruises.

Nauman doesn't know whether Bud will ever want to wait for a fare in front of Glacier Brewhouse again.

Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.

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