A 22-year-old Soldotna man led authorities on a pursuit through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel Sunday, triggering a brief evacuation that saw the use of one of the emergency rooms built into North America's longest rail-highway tunnel.
The pursuit began around 2:20 p.m. with an attempted traffic stop at about Mile 73 of the Seward Highway, Alaska State Troopers said.
Troopers said Tylor Arndt initially gave them a false name and then fled the scene, heading north in a blue Ford Focus at speeds of more than 110 mph. Arndt fled onto the Portage Highway, then into the oncoming traffic lane and beneath a gate that tunnel officials were lowering to close the 2.5-mile-long tunnel, a one-lane tunnel connecting the Prince William Sound community of Whittier with Southcentral Alaska's road system.
The troopers called ahead to tunnel workers to shut it down as they approached, troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain said in an email.
"The suspect made it by the gate just as it closed," DeSpain wrote. "The trooper had to wait to have the gate reopened."
Once in the tunnel, Arndt kept going, using emergency turnouts to pass other vehicles and eventually side-swiping a black Cadillac SUV while trying to pass it, troopers said.
The driver of the Cadillac, Karen Matteson, said she was taking her 19-year-old granddaughter to Whittier for the day when she heard sirens and saw flashing police lights behind her as she drove through the tunnel. Matteson said Arndt's car was behind her, and as he tried to pass inside the narrow tunnel, he side-swiped her SUV.
"After he went by, traffic inside the tunnel stopped and I saw a trooper walk next to my car and point a rifle ahead of me and yell at someone to get down," Matteson said.
Matteson said she and her granddaughter ducked down inside the car because they were worried a gunfight could break out. After a few minutes, Matteson said, troopers took her and others who were stuck inside the now-closed tunnel to a nearby safe room -- built to protect people caught inside the tunnel in the event of an earthquake or fire.
As they were walking away, Matteson said she could see a heavy-set man sitting in the ground in handcuffs. Matteson said troopers told her they were still looking for the driver of the suspect vehicle.
Arndt eventually abandoned the Focus and continued fleeing on foot in the direction of Whittier, troopers said.
Troopers evacuated 30 to 40 people from vehicles stuck in the tunnel during the incident, DeSpain said.
Whittier Police Chief Dave Schofield and an officer got a call at 2:31 p.m. about the Ford, the tunnel, and the troopers in pursuit. Schofield said he spotted Arndt briefly during the chase when he emerged from a set of emergency exit doors on the Whittier end of the tunnel.
"The suspect actually popped out, saw us, and turned around," he said.
Then the door closed behind Arndt, locking the suspect in the tunnel and Schofield out.
Meanwhile, troopers had surrounded an area about 20 feet from the exit where they had found Arndt hiding in an alcove behind a portable restroom, the chief said.
By 2:50 p.m., troopers evacuated people to one of eight emergency safe rooms built into the tunnel that are stocked with emergency supplies but have never been used for an actual emergency, Schofield said. Arndt was in custody by 3:04 p.m. and the tunnel reopened about an hour later.
Four troopers and a U.S. Forest Service officer responded, as well as two Whittier police officers, DeSpain said. One of the troopers, a Special Emergency Response Team member, suited up in a heavy "bomb suit" so he could be "better prepared for the barricaded suspect."
Matteson said she saw Arndt laying on the ground, handcuffed and moaning incoherently as she exited the tunnel in her car a few minutes after the all-clear was given. She said she heard someone ask Arndt, "What did you take?"
Troopers said Arndt was found to be subject to felony arrest warrants for a previous eluding charge and for violating probation. He was charged with two counts of third-degree assault, reckless driving, failing to stop at the direction of a peace officer, making a false report, driving with a revoked license, driving in violation of a limited license and failure to report an accident. Arndt was taken to Anchorage Correctional Center on a $21,000 bond.
Troopers said no one was injured in the incident. Matteson said she has not yet gotten an estimate on the damage to her SUV stemming from the incident, but is sure of one thing: Arndt was not thinking clearly when he tried to run from troopers through the tunnel to Whittier.
"His brain was on slow, because that was stupid," Matteson said.
Arndt's criminal record includes past convictions for reckless driving, resisting arrest, vehicle theft and driving under the influence and failure to stop at the direction of an officer, according to a state courts database.
Contact Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org and Sean Doogan at email@example.com.