Talkeetna residents were reeling Saturday after news raced through the small Susitna Valley hamlet that a longtime local had been shot to death the night before at a popular bar and restaurant.
Dirk Fast, 53, died on a barroom floor after being hit with a single gunshot in the upper torso, witnesses said. Alaska State Troopers arrested Samuel Clark, 40, about 15 minutes after the shooting, pulling over his truck as he drove away on the only road out of town.
Clark is charged with first-degree murder, the only slaying in Talkeetna proper that anyone there can remember, according to multiple people who have lived in the town for the better part of 50 years.
Pioneer Press owners John and Gale Moses were among the crowd of about 40 people gathered in the dining room at Latitude 62, a family-friendly lounge and restaurant, for a performance by musician Cheryl Wheeler. The separate bar area was quiet, with just a few people including Fast inside, John said.
"He didn't drink a lot, he just liked to sit around and visit and socialize," Gale said.
The atmosphere for the show was lighthearted and relaxed as Wheeler played and told jokes, Gale said. People were drinking beer and margaritas and having fun, she said.
"All of a sudden, there was this shot, and it was freaky," she said. "It just stopped my heart."
Everyone, including Wheeler onstage, went silent when the shot rang out from the other room, John said.
"It was pretty horrifying," he said. "We knew something had gone wrong."
Exactly what had happened in the next room, they did not know yet, he said. Then everyone realized they had just heard a gunshot, and word spread that Fast was hit.
Prior to the shooting, Clark and Fast spoke briefly at the bar, but the two were apparently not arguing about anything, troopers said. However, the Pioneer Press reported that witnesses said Clark "made an accusation of a personal nature before shooting the victim."
Someone saw Clark run out a back door, Gale Moses said, and everyone in the dining room stayed quiet, with the doors closed, unsure if the shooter was still around or if he would come back.
When John Moses walked over to the bar, he saw someone performing CPR on Fast, he said. But Fast's wound was too severe.
"He went pretty fast," Gale said.
"To have it happen in the Latitude, which is the safest place in town, a place where everyone feels comfortable going, it's like having someone shot in your own living room," John said.
Troopers arrested Clark without a struggle at Mile 7 of the Talkeetna Spur Road. His bail was set at $500,000 with a third-party custodian required, troopers said. Investigators were trying to determine if he'd consumed alcohol or drugs before the shooting, a trooper spokeswoman said.
Nobody in Talkeetna can figure out why Clark would have shot Fast, who was one of his few friends in town.
"I think, you know, his mind, it wasn't occupying the place his body was in when he did what he did," said Mike Sterling, Fast's friend and neighbor in East Talkeetna.
Clark, who also lived nearby, was a talented artist and a hunting guide, Sterling said. He carved a soapstone grizzly bear that sits in Sterling's window, and had impressed Sterling with his drawings.
"He and Dirk were friends, and I'm sure Dirk had no idea what was coming," Sterling said. "I guarantee you that there was nothing that Dirk did. Dirk was just a nice guy, just a nice person."
The retired Sterling saw Fast often, because Fast only worked a couple days a week as a longshoreman at the Port of Anchorage and lived two houses down, Sterling said.
Sterling still sounded dazed and in disbelief Saturday, the day after the shooting. During an interview, he referred to Fast several times in the present tense.
"You see a lot of him, and, you know, he's just a fun guy to have around," Sterling said.
Fast, a dedicated Christian, was devoted to his family, Sterling said. He was always buying nice things for his parents, Sterling said.
"He spends everything he's got, and he's buying things like, he goes and he buys his dad a big Honda snowblower, and, you know, he throws his hands up in the air because every time he goes over there, his dad's hand-shoveling the driveway," Sterling said. "I think he spent everything he had on the family, and was happy to do it."
Fast cherished time with his son and daughter-in-law, who live in Anchorage, Sterling said. The elder Fast was about to become a grandfather. Fast spent just about every weekend with his son, Sterling said.
"(Dirk) was always bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Friday when they were getting here, and he just had a ball all weekend. When they left, he waited until the next week," Sterling said.
Neighbors met at Sterling's house Saturday night to talk about plans for a memorial. People were still coming to grips with what happened, he said.
"Everybody's shaken up. What a shock," Sterling said. "This kind of stuff doesn't happen here."
It was an astounding, random act of violence, John Moses said.
"We're a town that cares about people, and people take care of each other up here," he said. "And to have this happen, the only word is 'shocking.' "
Find Casey Grove online at adn.com/contact/casey.grove or call him at 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE