Police: Man with history of DUIs leaves trail of wrecked vehicles

Lisa Demer
Erik Hill

A suspected drunken driver with a long history of DUIs left a trail of wrecked vehicles and injury between Midtown and South Anchorage Wednesday evening, police reported on Thursday.

John Hamilton, 52, faces 13 new charges resulting from, as police tell it, a drunken rampage on wheels. He crashed into police vehicles, rear-ended a sedan and broadsided a Subaru, sending two passengers to the hospital, police say. An officer was hurt too. Hamilton had no insurance or driver's license, police said.

His lengthy criminal record in Alaska is mainly misdemeanors but includes sexual assault and felony theft, according to the charging document filed Thursday. He has repeat convictions as a peeping Tom and for indecent exposure, five convictions for driving under the influence and three more for refusing to take a breath test, which counts the same as a DUI. His first conviction came in 1979 when he was 18 and underage in a bar, and one of his most recent stemmed from an incident last year when, according to court records, he peeped on girls in the family dressing room and a woman in the shower at Alaska Club South.

In all, Hamilton has 42 convictions in Alaska, prosecutor Patrick Sherry told Judge Gregory Motyka on Thursday afternoon at Anchorage jail court.

None of his drunken driving offenses counted as felonies. The new charges include five felonies but the DUI again is a misdemeanor. He's had just one drunken driving conviction in the last 15 years, Sherry said, looking over the tally from the state criminal records database. A third DUI within 10 years is a felony.

On Wednesday, the first 911 call came in at 7:58 p.m., police said.

A man in a red Ford pickup was driving recklessly southbound on the Seward Highway. It was Hamilton in a 1983 Ford F-250, police said.

The truck rear-ended a 2010 Buick LaCrosse near Fireweed Lane and the Seward Highway. A minute later, a second call came in about the hit-and-run driver, saying he had blown through two red lights and was speeding southbound down the Seward Highway. Police were told his speed maight have topped 90 mph, spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said.

Hamilton exited onto 36th Avenue, then continued south on the Old Seward Highway. Police said they caught up with him near 76th Avenue, turned on their lights and sirens, and, when Hamilton failed to stop, began the pursuit. The chase was mainly at speeds of 35 to 40 mph, Castro said.

Hamilton was driving erratically, weaving in and out of lanes, then just north of Dimond Boulevard turned east into business parking lots, police said. Two police vehicles tried to pin in Hamilton's truck near 1200 E. Dimond, at the Alaska MacStore.

Hamilton put up his hands like he was going to surrender, the charging document said. One police car pulled up behind his truck and another parked perpendicular at the front. But when the officers stepped out, Hamilton pressed the gas and rammed the perpendicular vehicle, pushing it several feet, the charges say. The officer's hand caught in the door. He later described his hand as "going numb," Castro said.

The errant truck driver then drove over the curb and headed westbound on Dimond, police said.

As he approached the intersection of Dimond and Old Seward, he ran the red light, the charges said. His truck hit an eastbound 2013 Subaru Forester that was trying to turn north onto Old Seward, police said. Two women passengers complained of neck and back pain and were taken to the hospital, Castro said.

At that point, four police vehicles pinned in Hamilton's truck. He rammed the officers' vehicles, trying to open up space for an escape, police said. The truck kept spinning its tires until Hamilton finally gave up, the charges said.

The whole incident was over in 12 minutes, Castro said. At least three police vehicles were damaged, along with the Buick, the Subaru and the Ford truck. Hamilton wasn't injured, she said.

At the scene, Hamilton told medics he had been drinking a lot of tequila and beer, the charges said. He smelled of alcohol and his speech was slurred. His eyes were bloodshot and watery, the charges said.

After his arrest, as officers took him to the Anchorage jail, "he was very combative and belligerent and repeatedly insulted and swore at officers," the charges said.

On Thursday, Hamilton rocked back and forth during his brief court appearance. He told Judge Motyka he'd like another chance at Wellness Court, which offers intensive substance abuse treatment and close monitoring instead of jail. He already went through that program for his 2005 DUI. Notes from a Wellness Court hearing in January 2006 say he was "doing well, full compliance, nearly 1 year sober."

He isn't working, he told the judge. The prosecutor, Sherry, said he was a flight risk and a danger.

Motyka appointed a public defender and set bail at $150,000, along with a requirement for a third-party custodian.

Anchorage police will analyze what happened to see if there are lessons to be learned, said Deputy Chief Steve Smith.

The department recently changed its use-of-deadly-force policy to generally bar officers from shooting at suspects who are using vehicles as weapons.

Even before the change, officers had to be in fear for their lives or the lives of others, Smith said.

"It wasn't just that the subjects before were just trying to get away, so we shot at them," the deputy chief said. "The officers perceived an immediate, deadly threat from the vehicle, and that's why they shot."

He said he didn't know whether any of the officers involved in Wednesday's incident felt threatened to that degree.

Hamilton is charged with driving under the influence, refusal to submit to a chemical test, driving with a revoked license, driving without insurance, two counts of failure to stop at the direction of an officer, two counts of leaving the scene of an accident, three counts of third degree assault, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.


Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.



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