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News of firefighter's death in Seward Hwy. crash shocks tiny Whittier

Devin Kelly
Bob Hallinen

A 29-year-old Whittier woman killed Tuesday night in a crash on the Seward Highway was a firefighter, Whittier Tunnel ticket booth operator and a "loved member" of her community, officials and residents said.

Salafai Carol Iosefa, 29, known to friends and family as Carol, lived in Whittier and worked as a firefighter with the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel Fire Department. She also volunteered for the Whittier fire department, and worked in the tunnel as a contractor for Transfield Services North America.

On Tuesday evening, Iosefa was driving a Honda Civic southbound on the Seward Highway near Potter Marsh when her car collided with a northbound semi-truck pulling two fuel tanks, said Anchorage police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro. The tanker ended up in the ditch off its opposite lane, and the Honda rested in the northbound lane, Castro said.

The crash, reported at 7:19 p.m., "essentially completely destroyed" the Civic, Castro said.

First responders had to cut Iosefa from the vehicle, and she was pronounced dead at the scene, Castro said. The driver of the tanker escaped with minor injuries. Neither vehicle had passengers, Castro said.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. No charges have been filed in connection with the incident, and police have not identified the driver of the tanker or the company that owns the tanker.

News of Iosefa's death shocked Whittier, the port community on Prince William Sound with about 200 residents in winter.

"It's devastating. It's a very small community," said Charlie Neidel, 45, maintenance supervisor at Begich Towers. Neidel lives in the towers on the same floor as Iosefa's family, whom he described as active members of the community, involved with the school and the Whittier Christian Community Church.

"Everybody's taking it pretty hard."

Veronica Fausto, who works at Great Pacific Seafoods, said Iosefa was quiet, friendly and helpful, and she was "so shocked" by what had happened -- "everyone was in shock, all over in Whittier."

Members of the Whittier City Council learned of the crash in the middle of a council meeting Tuesday night. One of Iosefa's sisters serves on the council.

"We didn't know how bad it was, but we knew it was something not good," said mayor and acting city manager Daniel Blair, in an emotional phone interview.

Blair said he remembered Iosefa taking his ticket at the Whittier Tunnel booth, and described her as a "loved member" of both the community and of her close-knit American Samoan family. Her siblings live in Whittier, and Iosefa's extended family includes relatives in Anchorage, Blair said.

Dyanna Pratt, the city tax administrator, said that people in the city were quiet on Wednesday. That morning, several people who knew Iosefa and work in the city hall building came into Pratt's office crying.

"It affects all of us, because we drive the road so much," said Pratt, whose husband commutes to Anchorage every day. "We all kind of go through that pang when we don't hear from them when they should be here."

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.


By DEVIN KELLY
dkelly@adn.com