High speed chase ends in collision: Suspect arrested after pursuit through Soldotna and Kenai

Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A high speed pursuit that started in Sterling ended with a crash in a residential development in Kenai on Tuesday afternoon.

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Hershberger's car rests against a Park Terrace apartment near where Kenai police Chief Gus Sandahl said the sport utility vehicle rammed it. Sandahl said Hershberger felt the driver was attempting to force a head-on collision with him so he took evasive action by steering into the ditch in front of Park Terrace apartments. "The vehicle continued all the way across and struck the officer on the lawn," Sandahl said.

At 12:55 p.m. the Public Safety Dispatch in Soldotna was notified of an erratic driver reported to be under the influence in the South Scout Lake Loop Road area in Sterling, according to information released by the Kenai Police Department and Alaska State Troopers.

The driver was later identified as Robert P. Hancock, 30, of Anchorage, behind the wheel of his 2005 white Chevrolet Equinox.

Hancock was headed toward Soldotna on the Sterling Highway.

The Soldotna Police Department responded to the call and located Hancock in Soldotna on the Kenai Spur Highway, headed toward Kenai.

A Soldotna officer attempted to make a traffic stop near Knight Drive, but Hancock refused to yield, and took off toward Kenai.

Megan Peters, a public information officer for the troopers, said Hancock was weaving in and out of traffic and endangering those on or near the roadway.

"At one point they almost hit a bus," she said, though she could not confirm whether it was a school bus or where the bus was.

"It was very erratic driving, going into oncoming traffic, going off the road, going onto sidewalks and into ditches," she said.

Hancock pulled away from police at about Mile 4 of the Spur Highway.

Units from the KPD, SPD and troopers located Hancock again on the Spur Highway near Kenai.

Alex Cowie of Kenai was turning onto the Spur from Beaver Loop Road, when he said he saw the fleeing suspect come barreling into town from behind him.

"I looked in my rearview mirror and here's this vehicle just flying. He went around me and kept on cruising around the corner," Cowie said.

Thinking more on it, he said, "The way he passed us on that one spot he just about killed us. I can't imagine what else he did along the way."

Officers again attempted to make a stop, but the driver blitzed through downtown Kenai, going through red lights.

Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said Hancock turned right onto Forest Drive.

Shots were fired soon thereafter by police when Hancock appeared to bear down on a trooper.

"A Kenai officer saw the suspect accelerate toward a trooper who was outside his vehicle, and then the Kenai officer fired shots at (Hancock's) vehicle, not striking the defendant but striking the vehicle," Sandahl said.

Sandahl did not release the identify of the officer who fired the weapon, or say how many shots had been let off.

Sometime after the shots were fired, Sandahl said Hancock pushed a male child, whose identity was not released, from the car.

Hancock turned west down Redoubt Ave. where an officer spiked the SUV's tires.

Kenai police officer Casey Hershberger followed as Hanson continued back toward the Spur.

Hancock pulled a U-turn in the street in front of the waste transfer facility and nearly rolled in the process, according to a witness, Stan Pitlo.

The SUV then came into the oncoming eastbound lane of traffic.

Sandahl said Hershberger felt the driver was attempting to force a head-on collision with him so he took evasive action by steering into the ditch in front of Park Terrace apartments.

"The vehicle continued all the way across and struck the officer on the lawn," Sandahl said.

The collision ripped off the rear driver's side tire and blew out the back window of the police car, while the Equinox struck a power pole and rolled on its side, coming to rest on the street next to the Park Terrace apartments.

Both Hershberger and Hancock sustained minor injuries, according to Sandahl.

Hancock, who appeared to have visible lacerations on both his neck and wrists, was taken into custody at that point.

Sandahl said he could not say whether Hancock was intoxicated upon arrest.

The case remains under investigation by the KPD, and Sandahl said he expected to have more details in the coming days.

The chase shook up the small community of Kenai.

Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Sciences, on North Forest Drive in Kenai, was placed on lockdown briefly as the chase unfolded.

"It went smoothly. The kids did exactly what they're supposed to do. They came in from the playground -- they were just about to come in anyway," said Mick Wykis, Kaleidoscope's principal.

Wykis said students moved quickly to their classrooms, and the all-clear came from Kenai police, via the district office, about 18 minutes later.

Members of Kenai's police and fire departments were at the school assisting with a bicycle rodeo, Wykis said.

Diana Darringer, the manager at Park Terrace apartments, was listening to the chase with one of her tenants who has a police scanner.

"I heard the high speed chase going through town at 100 miles per hour," she said. "Then I heard he was coming down Redoubt. He went by, two seconds later, he goes whizzing back in the other direction."

Darringer said she didn't see the crash but heard it.

Jake Stutsman lives near the east end of Redoubt Ave. He received a call from his mother saying there was a chase under way and that it might be headed in his direction.

He said he went outside and saw police officers install a "tack strip" shortly before the SUV drove through.

He saw the vehicle go by on Redoubt after hitting the tack strips.

"He was going 45 or 50 (miles per hour) maybe," Stutsman said.

He noted that the passenger side window was shot out.

"That image is stuck in my head," Stutsman said. "I looked at his window and it was half-mooned in the front corner. ... It's bizarre. The whole thing is just bizarre."

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.

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