A 28-year-old Kenai man pleaded not guilty to four counts of second-degree murder in Kenai Superior Court on Tuesday in connection with a head-on collision last fall that left an Anchorage couple dead. A bail review hearing is set for 10 a.m. today.
About 20 friends and family members showed support for Erwin J. Petterson Jr. as he was formally charged with causing the death of Robert Weiser, 60, and Donna Weiser, 56, both of Anchorage, in the fiery crash near Mile 65.5 of the Seward Highway on Oct. 12.
Two of the charges allege Petterson's conduct was substantially certain to cause the couple's deaths and did cause their deaths and two allege he knowingly engaged in conduct that resulted in their deaths under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.
According to an Alaska State Trooper report, Petterson was traveling north on the highway in a 2002 Ford F150 pickup at a high rate of speed, passing several vehicles when his truck crossed the double yellow lines into oncoming traffic.
The report said Petterson and a passenger were watching a digital videodisc movie at the time.
Petterson's vehicle struck the Weisers' 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was traveling south on the highway.
The Jeep caught fire and witnesses were able to pull Donna Weiser's body out, but were unable to recover Robert Weiser's body before the vehicle became engulfed in flames.
Petterson and his passenger were taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Petterson had a broken ankle and broken ribs and his passenger was treated for minor injuries and released.
Occupants of both vehicles were wearing seat belts and no alcohol was involved, the report said.
Petterson was arrested at his Kenai residence Monday evening.
"I think the district attorney is overreaching with four counts of second-degree murder," Peter Ehrhardt, the attorney representing Petterson, said Tuesday.
"This kid went to Kenai High. He has no criminal record. We don't think it's true," Ehrhardt said about the videodisc movie allegation.
"We think it was an accident," he said.
In the initial trooper report, Petterson reportedly told investigators he "took his eyes off the road to grab a soda" and his passenger "was looking down in the floorboard digging through items."
Ehrhardt said the case should have been tried as a manslaughter rather than second-degree murder and said the charges brought by the district attorney and the Grand Jury "make two tragedies out of one."
Superior Court Judge Charles K. Cranston assigned the case to Superior Court Judge Harold Brown for the week of Aug. 4 and scheduled the bail hearing for today.
One supporter loudly said, "Jamie, you got lots of support here, bud," as he was led out of the courtroom back to Wildwood Pretrial Facility where he is being held on $50,000 bail with a third-party custodian requirement.
Petterson's parents said after the hearing, they were instructed by his attorney not to comment to the media.
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