Two days after a body was discovered in Big Lake, area residents expressed relief that it appeared to be the same man who had fired a gun at an Alaska State Trooper following a car chase in the area a week earlier.
The man was found floating in Stephan Lake less than a mile from where the car was abandoned after the chase, said Jim Faiks, who spotted the body from his boat on Wednesday.
A troopers spokeswoman on Friday declined to confirm a link between the two cases.
She said that the body found by Faiks had been tentatively identified, but refused to provide any more details pending confirmation from the State Medical Examiner.
She also would not release additional details about the suspect from last week's pursuit.
"We can't release conclusive information," said the spokeswoman, Beth Ipsen. "There's always a possibility that they're totally separate incidents, totally separate people."
Nonetheless, Big Lake residents said they could finally relax after an uneasy week following the car chase, which had sent police cruisers speeding down a local street in pursuit.
"They were coming down Big Lake Road so fast that it shook my car," said Donna Turner, who was passed by troopers while she was driving to work at her bridal store. "It was siren after siren after siren."
Following the chase, Ipsen said, about 20 troopers spent more than four hours searching the area without success, finishing about 2 p.m.
That evening, one of Faiks's neighbors who lives on an island a quarter mile from shore heard screaming and splashing.
The neighbor, Mindy Turner, made eye contact with the man in the water, then ran to her cabin to call Faiks and retrieve a shotgun, Faiks said.
By the time Turner returned to the lake and Faiks arrived on his boat a few minutes later, the man was gone and the water was still, Faiks said.
Turner did not respond to a phone message.
The neighbors called the cops and three troopers arrived and searched the island but found no sign of the man, Faiks said. A dive team did not find a body the following day either.
"That's what had everybody quite concerned and scared," said Faiks, who noted that one of his neighbors was told by troopers that the suspect from the chase was wanted for second-degree murder. "He hadn't been found, he's still out there some where, he's armed and unscrupulous."
After finding the body on Wednesday, Faiks said he was relieved even though officials had not confirmed a link to the man in the car chase, noting that the troopers who responded seemed convinced.
"There didn't seem to be any doubt in their mind who it was," Faiks said. "He was floating in the lake right where he was supposed to be, and the timing was just perfect for him to surface -- there are just too many pieces of the puzzle."
Both Faiks and Ina Mueller, the president of the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce, said they would have liked to have gotten more information from authorities about the case.
"I always wish we could have a little better communications about what was going on, from troopers," Mueller said. "But I guess in reality, they didn't know, until they found the body, exactly what was happening."
At least now, Mueller added, residents can feel safe.
"It's not that you want somebody to have perished like this, but it did bring closure," she said. "So that people, especially in that area, didn't think at night as they're walking to their car when it's dark, or early in the morning when they're taking out the garbage: 'Hmm, could he be hiding here somewhere?' "
Reach Nathaniel Herz at email@example.com or 257-4311.
By NATHANIEL HERZ