For many years, three wooden crosses stood beside the Glenn Highway between the Hiland Road and Fort Richardson exits. Each one, a different color, is a reminder of a 2001 drunk driving accident that left two teenagers and Anchorage Police officer Justin Todd Wollam dead. Tuesday afternoon a more permanent mark on Alaska's landscape was unveiled in honor of a Wollam.
At an afternoon memorial dedication ceremony, the wounds still seemed fresh. More than 50 police officers, Alaska State Troopers, friends and family gathered to remember Wollam, who was 28 at the time of his death.
Many of those attending wiped their eyes with tissues for the most of the 30-minute memorial. As Police Chief Mark Mew spoke, he choked up while telling stories of Wollam's time in the force.
Shortly before his death, Wollam was part of a police procession for an Alaska State Trooper funeral, Mew recounted. He asked a colleague if they "go to these a lot." Mew said there is no answer for that question. Each day as they leave their homes, he said, many officers are unsure if it's their last shift. That story seemed to affect attending officers more than others; they looked away as Mew spoke.
Mew said the scar from that deadly day is a constant reminder of why impaired driving can be so devastating. On the day of the incident, 19-year-old Robert Esper caused a high-speed chase, with three other teens in the car. They had been drinking at a party before Esper got behind the wheel of a 1985 Chevrolet Blazer.
The chase began on Lake Otis Boulevard and 72nd Avenue, but didn't end until Esper reached the Glenn Highway where he hit Wollam's patrol car head-on. He killed himself, 16-year-old Makayla Lewis, 14-year-old Heidi Weilbacher as well as Wollam.
"I was in shock," said Wollam's aunt Bridget Kincaid. "I was running a business in Cooper Landing at the time, and my sister called me because she was out of state and she needed someone to be with the family."
The concrete memorial and plaque near the bike path along the Glenn Highway won't bring her nephew back, Kincaid said. But the city of Anchorage went above and beyond the families' expectations.
"It's beautiful," she said.
And as they said their final goodbyes, a bagpipe played "Amazing Grace", and the family placed long-stemmed roses on top of the memorial. It will never be enough, but Mew said he hopes it brings some closure to loved ones.