Wasilla officer, trooper won't be charged in fatal shooting

Tegan Hanlon

A state review has deemed justified the gunfire by a Wasilla police officer and an Alaska state trooper earlier this year that killed a 52-year-old man.

Trooper Daron Cooper and Officer Brandon Gray, a patrolman for the Wasilla Police Department, opened fire on a Chevrolet pickup the night of March 9 after a chaotic police chase. Gordon Samel of Wasilla was behind the wheel of the truck and died from bullet wounds at the scene, troopers said.

Just 30 minutes before the fatal shooting, around 8:30 p.m., someone had reported Samel as a possible drunken driver. Samel had pulled into a parking lot near the intersection of Parks Highway and the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. There was one passenger in the truck.

A trooper responded and knocked on the side of the truck. Samel took off, driving the wrong way down the Parks Highway, turning down side streets and chased by patrol cars. The truck spun in a circle when it got to Seward Meridian. That was when Samel threw his truck into reverse and drove toward Gray, troopers said.

Gray and Cooper fired at the truck.

A review from the Office of Special Prosecution and Appeals determined criminal charges were not warranted against Gray or Cooper, said troopers in an online post Friday.

"The actions undertaken by the officers were determined to be an effort to stop Mr. Samel before he caused serious injury or death to Officer Gray," troopers said.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.