Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Gordon Samel, the suspected drunken driver killed Sunday night in an officer-initiated shooting, lived a complicated life. Samel, described by relatives as a big-hearted outdoorsman who struggled with bipolar disorder, had a 30-year criminal history and was under court orders not to drink following a September driving under the influence arrest, court records show. The 52-year-old from Wasilla also played a small but pivotal role in a piece of Alaska history: He was the moose hunter who in 1992 found the body of Christopher McCandless, the ill-fated 24-year-old wanderer immortalized in author Jon Krakauer's 1996 nonfiction bestseller "Into the Wild." Samel's death came at the end of a brief but chaotic police chase that came to a stop near the Wasilla Sears, north of the Parks...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,...Zaz Hollander
A high-profile case involving the appointment of a state guardian for a 27-year-old Wasilla hunting guide hospitalized for nearly five months with a brain infection is getting attention from a well-known crusader against forced psychiatric drugging. An Anchorage Superior Court judge last month appointed a state guardian to make medical and all other decisions for Bret Bohn at Providence Alaska Medical Center over the objections of his parents and other family members. State officials couldn't release any information about the guardian assigned Bohn due to confidentiality restrictions. It's pretty clear he or she is busy. The state's adult guardians work with an average of 80 clients each, according to Elizabeth Russo, supervising attorney for the public guardian sector. In a hospital...Zaz Hollander
A state-appointed guardian is now making decisions for Bret Bohn, the 27-year-old Wasilla hunting guide at the center of a medical custody battle since he entered Providence Alaska Medical Center in October. An Anchorage Superior Court judge last month ruled Bohn was too incapacitated by a brain infection to make his own medical decisions. Rejecting a petition filed by his parents, Judge Erin Marston gave the state's Adult Protective Services Division the power to make all decisions for Bohn, according to a court order handed down on Feb. 7. The judge based his decision in part on comments made by Glenn Bohn and Lorraine Phillips that they wanted their son removed from the hospital and taken off his medications, according to the order, first published on the website of Police State USA...Zaz Hollander
PALMER -- A 47-year-old Wasilla man who beat his buddy to death in an alcohol-induced stupor behind the Mug-Shot Saloon in Wasilla last fall was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison. During his sentencing hearing in Palmer Superior Court on Friday, John Martin called 60-year-old Russell Metcalf his best friend -- the guy he wandered the streets with, found places to stay warm in the winter with, drank and fought with. The two knew each other for 14 years. "I wish Russell was still kicking," Martin said to Judge Eric Smith. "He didn't want to see me in trouble for this any more than I want to see him in the grave." Martin last year told Wasilla police he blacked out and didn't know exactly what happened Oct. 1, the night Metcalf died, according to charging documents. Martin said that...Zaz Hollander
PALMER -- Fire destroyed the old Fishhook Dairy barn Wednesday, putting an end to a local landmark that once housed cows and a milking parlor that supplied the old Matanuska Maid operation. But the barn owned by a longtime Valley farm family along Palmer-Fishhook Road is expected to rise again. Owners Amy and Lee Harmon plan to rebuild. "The original milking parlor is out of rock, and the fire got there last," Harmon said Friday afternoon. "I think it would be really cool to build almost a mini replica, kinds of throwback to the old barn, a smaller version." She thinks a heat lamp in a chicken coop may have started the fire. Two of the family's 13 chickens are still missing, but no other animals were lost. Harmon is the granddaughter of June and Clyde Oberg, who fashioned the barn out of...Zaz Hollander
PALMER -- Longtime Chugiak state legislator Bill Stoltze announced Friday he will seek his first Senate seat, a new position created by redistricting that takes in a broad swath from Chugiak to the edges of Wasilla. Stoltze, a Republican, made his announcement before a supportive crowd in the cafeteria of Palmer's senior center, where the audience included his brother and mother, a regular there. His decision to try for the Senate came after "a lot of thought and soul-searching and praying" as well as prodding from friends including Republican colleagues, Stoltze said. The newly created Senate seat includes much of Stoltze's existing House district but adds Palmer and areas near Wasilla. Stoltze has served six terms in the House and since 2008 has been co-chair of the influential House...Zaz Hollander
Update, 4:15 p.m.: With snow swirling over the Anchorage Bowl Wednesday, police said they've seen, on average, about one crash every 10 minutes since 6 a.m. The accident tally hit 104 by 3:30 p.m., with seven crashes resulting in non-life threatening injuries and 34 vehicles in distress, said Jennifer Castro, police spokeswoman. "From 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. we were having double digit accidents each hour," Castro said in an email. "From 11 a.m. to now we are back down in the single digits for accidents each hour." To compare: Police responded to 18 accidents yesterday, a less-snowy Tuesday, and 18 vehicles in distress. In Wasilla, crashes partially shut down Parks Highway twice and vehicles knocked over at least two light poles. The amount of snowfall Wednesday afternoon varied across the...Zaz Hollander,Devin Kelly
Wasilla police are looking for a man who stole three semi-automatic pistols and a distinctive, semi-automatic .50-caliber rifle Sunday night from Mat-Su Tactical LLC, a Wasilla gun and weapons training business. The estimated value of the stolen firearms is $12,295, police said in a news release. The man, described as a white male, got into the store near midnight Sunday by breaking a rear window with a rock and then reaching in and unlocking the door, police said. He stole the weapons from a display case. Surveillance video shows the suspect wearing heavy black boots, ski jacket, hoodie, a "beanie" hat and scarf. Stolen were a Barrett .50 caliber rifle with a Swarovski scope, Model M82 A1, Serial 1049; a Smith & Wesson M & P Shield 9 mm pistol, Serial HSR4402; a Glock 37 .45 G.AP...Zaz Hollander
An Air National Guard helicopter rescued five people, including two children, early Sunday morning after their amphibious, all-terrain Argo broke through ice in the area of the Knik River and got stuck. Three adults in the group were identified as Nathan McCarthy, David Weimer and Emilie Arvidson, Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. Arvidson is from Eagle River; the hometowns of the others were not available. The adults ranged in age from their late 20s to late 30s, Peters said. No one was injured but because of thin ice in the area, all five had to be hoisted one at a time into a Pave Hawk helicopter, a Guard spokeswoman said. Someone in the group used a cellphone to call for help at 8:27 p.m. Saturday near Friday Creek, according to information from the Guard and Mat-Su...Zaz Hollander