Troopers release names of officers in fatal Valley shooting

Zaz Hollander

Alaska State Troopers have released the names of two officers involved in the fatal shooting of a suspected drunken driver just outside Wasilla Sunday night.

The officers were identified late Wednesday as Trooper Daron A. Cooper, a six-year veteran assigned as a K-9 handler out of the Palmer patrol unit, and Officer Brandon L. Gray, a patrol officer with two years at the Wasilla Police Department.

Troopers say both men fired shots at 52-year-old Gordon Samel of Wasilla just after 9 p.m. Sunday after he backed his pickup toward the Wasilla officer. Samel died at the scene. A passenger in the truck was treated and released for an arm wound and not charged.

The shooting followed a pursuit that began about 30 minutes earlier, after someone reported two intoxicated men in a pickup at the busy intersection of the Parks and Palmer-Wasilla highways in Wasilla, troopers said. A trooper approached Samel's pickup but he drove away and fled up the Parks Highway, briefly driving against traffic, before turning onto side streets.

Patrol cars encircled Samel at East Whispering Woods Drive and Seward Meridian Parkway, according to troopers. That's where they say Samel put his white Chevrolet pickup into reverse and drove toward Gray. Both Gray and Cooper fired at the truck, troopers said.

Samel died from the bullet wounds he sustained, according to preliminary autopsy results. Troopers have not said whether one or both of the officers involved hit Samel nor provided information about how many shots were fired. Witnesses described hearing several shots.

Samel's family said he suffered from bipolar disorder.

Troopers say an investigative report will be provided to the state Department of Law to determine if deadly force was justified.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.