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Troopers: Suspected DUI driver, 52, shot and killed in Wasilla after failing to stop

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Shots fired by a Wasilla police officer and an Alaska State Trooper killed a suspected drunk driver who tried to elude them Sunday night, troopers said.

Both fired at Gorden E. Samel, 52, of Wasilla, after he backed his pickup toward the officer following a brief but chaotic chase, according to troopers.

An adult male passenger in the truck received injuries described as not life-threatening; he was not identified.

The shooting occurred just after 9 p.m. at the intersection of East Whispering Woods Drive and Seward Meridian Parkway, a residential area just a few blocks from Sears and Walmart north of the Parks Highway.

The situation began when someone reported a possible drunk or dangerous driver at the intersection of the Parks and Palmer-Wasilla highways at 8:37 p.m. Sunday, according to an update provided by troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipson on Monday afternoon.

The caller described two intoxicated men in a white Chevrolet pickup and provided a license plate number.

A trooper who has not been identified spotted the pickup in the parking lot of the Wasilla Fred Meyer and knocked on the side of the truck "to contact the occupants," troopers said.

Samel, however, drove off and circled around several small businesses in the area before entering the Parks Highway and driving south the wrong way in the northbound lanes of the highway for a short distance before driving over a median into the southbound lanes, troopers said.

At that point, Samel turned left onto South Hermon Road and then east onto Whispering Woods, they said. Whispering Woods is a low-speed residential road with several speed bumps.

At the intersection with Seward Meridian, the pickup spun around in a circle and was encircled by two trooper patrol vehicles and a Wasilla police vehicle, troopers said.

"As one Alaska State Trooper and one Wasilla Police Department Officer approached the pickup on foot, the driver of the pickup placed the vehicle in reverse and began backing directly towards the Wasilla Police Department Officer," the troopers' incident summary stated. "One Alaska State Trooper and the Wasilla Police Department Officer fired their handguns at the vehicle."

Samel died at the scene from bullet wounds. Troopers didn't say how many shots were fired, how many rounds hit Samel or where he was hit.

There was no additional information about the passenger, who was not named because he has not been criminally charged. He was treated and released for an arm wound, troopers said.

The trooper and police officer involved in the shooting were not injured, Ipsen said.

The names of the trooper and officer will be released Wednesday night, she said.

Wasilla police Chief Gene Belden did not return calls for comment.

The scene of the shooting was quiet Monday and unremarkable, except for a scattering of shattered glass and spray paint left by investigators at the end of Whispering Woods.

One local resident said he saw a police car speeding down the road past his house. Another resident who lives next to the intersection said she heard a "lot of sirens" and then shots.

The shooting appears to be the first involving a Wasilla police officer since 2008, when two officers killed a 42-year-old Big Lake man who shot at them with a handgun.

Central Mat-Su medics got a call at 9:19 p.m. putting them on "standby" for shots fired, according to Clint Vardeman, the Mat-Su Borough's deputy emergency services director. Two minutes later, troopers requested medics respond with an ambulance and asked for a second ambulance at 9:21 p.m.

Investigators from the Alaska Bureau of Investigation and Wasilla police are investigating the incident, with the state agency serving as lead.

At the close of the investigation, a report will be provided to the state Department of Law, Office of Special Prosecutions, for determination as to whether the use of deadly force was legally justified.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.

 


By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com