Teen charged with revenge killing of Palmer man and throwing body off Matanuska River bluff

Zaz Hollander
Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- A 17-year-old from Palmer faces murder charges in the shooting death of 45-year-old Frank L. Pushruk at an overlook high above the Matanuska River.

Jacob Allen Dvorak told an Alaska State Trooper investigator that he killed Pushruk Wednesday night and dumped his body over a cliff as punishment for sexually assaulting a teenage girl a few days earlier, according to court documents filed by prosecutors.

Troopers arrested Dvorak on one count of first-degree murder Thursday evening.

Dvorak shot Pushruk once in the face and twice in the back of the head at the Glenn Highway scenic overlook north of Palmer late Wednesday night according to a sworn affidavit filed with the documents by troopers Investigator James P. Streicher. Then, with the help of a 16-year-old male friend, he pushed Pushruk's body over the edge of the steep bluff.

The documents indicate the girl was in a car nearby but it's not clear whether she knew Dvorak planned to kill Pushruk.

Dvorak told troopers he wanted justice for what Pushruk had done to the girl, Streicher said.

The teenager kept his eyes mostly averted and gave the judge one-word answers during his first court hearing in Palmer Friday afternoon.

Palmer Superior Court Judge William Estelle set Dvorak's bail at $100,000 cash corporate and release to a court-approved third-party custodian. Estelle appointed a public defender for the 17-year-old, who is being charged as an adult.

Dvorak's parents and sister attended the hearing.

Vladimir Dvorak after the hearing said his son, the youngest of 10, was responsible enough to buy his own Mustang and pay for the insurance with a job at the Wasilla Dairy Queen.

"He's been doing good. He was a typical kid, liked to go out and party," said Dvorak, a retired state maintenance worker.

The family still didn't know exactly what happened, he said. They don't have a computer. The first they heard their son was involved in any crime was when the troopers came to the Palmer house Thursday afternoon with search warrants.

"We thought he was spending the night at a friend's house," Vladimir Dvorak said.

The girl told a troopers investigator that after a night of partying at Pushruk's house three days earlier, she woke up naked with Pushruk at the foot of her bed, holding her underwear and saying, "I'm sorry," Streicher said. Pushruk and another man in the home denied any involvement.

The girl later told an investigator she wasn't sure what happened that night and didn't think she had sex, the affidavit says.

The 16-year-old with Dvorak during the shooting was at the house and confronted Pushruk, according to the affidavit. A friend told investigators Dvorak and the girl may have had a past sexual relationship.

Both of them told Dvorak about it, according to the affidavit.

The girl and Dvorak, along with the unidentified 16-year-old male friend, drove around Wasilla and made plans to beat up Pushruk, Streicher said. Later, the 16-year-old told troopers, Dvorak told him "he had a stolen gun and that they should shoot Frank," the investigator wrote, but the 16-year-old told Dvorak "that was a bad idea and they should only beat up Frank."

The teens planned to entice Pushruk into Dvorak's car by telling him they were going to buy hallucinogenic mushrooms, the affidavit says.

Dvorak got off work at 10 p.m. Wednesday and left with the 16-year-old, according to the affidavit. They picked up Pushruk at his house in Palmer and drove out to the Glenn Highway viewpoint near Mile 50.

The three walked up a dirt path to the popular overlook, rimmed by a fence along the steep bluff about 1,000 feet above the Matanuska. The 16-year-old told the investigator that Dvorak confronted Pushruk about the girl's accusations, the affidavit says. Then he pulled out a .45 caliber handgun with wooden grips and pointed it at Pushruk's face.

"Frank told (Dvorak) to 'just shoot me,'" the affidavit says. Dvorak shot Pushruk in the face, it continues, then shot him twice more after he fell to the ground.

The 16-year-old told the investigator he froze until Dvorak told him to help, saying "This could be you," Streicher wrote. The 16-year-old, thinking Dvorak was threatening his life, said he helped Dvorak throw Pushruk over the fence and down the cliff.

The two teens drove away, according to the affidavit. Dvorak wiped his fingerprints off the gun, tried to clean blood off his shoelaces and jacket and later apparently dumped the gun in the woods on the way into Palmer.

The two drove to Dvorak's house in town, Streicher said. The 16-year-old told the investigator that Dvorak got on Facebook and tried to make several calls. He contacted the girl at some point.

Dvorak dropped off the 16-year-old at the Palmer Fred Meyer store, telling him to tell police that "Riddles" -- Dvorak's nickname -- did the crime, the affidavit says. Dvorak told his friend he thought the girl and another friend might have seen or heard what happened. The 16-year-old tried to reach the girl and eventually got a ride at the Palmer Carrs store nearby from "other juveniles who had already heard about what happened."

The driver took the 16-year-old back to the highway viewpoint.

Authorities learned what happened after someone called 911 just before midnight Wednesday to report the shooting death.

The 17-year-old girl was with two other teenagers in a car parked at the highway viewpoint, according to the affidavit. Someone else in the car heard three shots and called 911.

Palmer police and troopers arrived within minutes.

The trio of teenagers, including the girl, met a trooper at the viewpoint, according to Streicher's affidavit.

Pushruk's body was recovered at 1 p.m. Thursday by responders on four-wheelers using a trail along the Matanuska River, far below the viewpoint.

Pushruk, a longtime Palmer resident, moved here at least three decades ago from Anchorage.

His parents were born on King Island in the Bering Sea but later moved to Anchorage and then Palmer.

Pushruk was working at a Wasilla roofing company before his death, though he spent parts of his life behind bars, including on a 1980s weapons charge and a 2007 felony driving-under-the-influence charge.

Pushruk is the third person in his family to die violently at someone else's hands.

Patrick "Rudy" Pushruk was beaten to death in 2007 in a fight near Teller, a Bering Sea village 70 miles west of Nome. The other man pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Four years later, in 2011, Nome police found 21-year-old Marie Pushruk strangled. Her boyfriend pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

On Thursday, the family's farflung members reached out to each other from Anchorage and Palmer to Nome and Teller.

Diane Miller, a Teller resident who is Frank Pushruk's first cousin, said her oldest brother Dean called to tell her the terrible news about Frank's death.

Miller was Rudy Pushruk's sister. She was Marie Pushruk's aunt.

"It's overwhelming and devastating," Miller said. "Very sad."

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or (907) 352-6705.