Families, friends express shock over traffic deaths of Anchorage teens

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- His last night, just hours before he crashed a Chevrolet Blazer into a police cruiser and died, things couldn't have been more normal for Bobby Esper.

He and his father, Bob Esper, had gone on a weekend fishing and camping trip to Anchor Point. Bobby caught a halibut. Worn out, back at home in Anchorage, his dad went to bed early Sunday night. His son was doing the laundry.

Esper, 19, who had a history of stealing cars and problems with alcohol and drugs, was trying to get his life together, his father said. He had just completed a residential drug and alcohol treatment program. He was working as a pipe insulator.

''The next thing I knew, I got a knock on my door telling me my car was in a pursuit,'' Bob Esper told the Anchorage Daily News.

It was not yet 4 a.m. Monday. Police had spotted the Blazer full of kids and began tracking it on suspicion the driver was drunk. Esper crossed the median on the Glenn Highway and, police say, drove his father's Blazer head-on into the police car, killing himself, two teen-age passengers, and officer Justin T. Wollam.

The passengers killed were Heidi Weilbacher, 14, and Makayla Lewis, 16. A third passenger, Savanah Fielding, was critically injured. Three other teen-agers had scrambled out of the Blazer back in Spenard. Friends who talked to the surviving teens said Esper stopped when one of them, a girl scared by his erratic driving, screamed to be let out. Two teen-age boys fled with her.

Around Anchorage this week, families and friends talked about the good moments in the lives of those who died as they struggled with the horror of how their lives ended.

Weilbacher told her mother that she was going to baby-sit when she left home Sunday night, said family friend Ken Legacki, an Anchorage attorney.

She was a good kid, not the type to be out at 4 a.m., Legacki said. ''It doesn't make sense. They are flabbergasted.''

She was an honor student who had just completed her freshman year at Dimond High School, he said.

Her parents are still too torn up to talk. Her father, R.W. Weilbacher, owns a fishing guide outfit in Soldotna. Weilbacher had just visited him there. Her mother and stepfather live in a large home on a small lake in south Anchorage.

No one could say how the teens hooked up Sunday night or early Monday morning. Police are investigating that but won't release more information until the probe is complete, said police spokesman Ron McGee.

The teens knew each other from Dimond High School or even earlier in childhood, their friends said.

Weilbacher was outgoing and fun-loving, said Nicole Carrier, 15.

''If you were sad, she would always find a way to make you laugh,'' Carrier said. She'd crack ''a cheesy smile'' or hike up her pants and walk in a goofy way.

Weilbacher was especially close to her mother, her friend said.

''She tells her mother what she wants to do and if her mother said no, it was no,'' Carrier said.

Makayla Lewis had more trouble in her life, but her friends said it didn't show. At the time of her death, Lewis was in the legal custody of the state Division of Family and Youth Services. Some friends said they knew she had a difficult home life. Others didn't.

''She didn't let any of that matter,'' said Kari Lacey, 15. ''She was always happy.''

Lewis was on Carrier's recreational soccer team, the Teal Tornados, back in 1998. Carrier didn't know the other girls, but Lewis made sure she felt included.

DFYS said she was reported as a runaway in April after leaving a downtown shelter. But her friends never thought of her as a street kid. She liked going to the mall. She worked at a deli.

''She was so fun. She was down for everything. We hung out all the time,'' Lacey said.

This summer, Lewis was supposed to go to Hawaii, where her guardians live, but she missed the plane, Lacey said.

Bobby Esper also was a happy, well-adjusted kid, until he started doing drugs in his teens, said his father, a local bus driver. Though he lost his mother to cancer as a young boy, he seemed fine emotionally, Bob Esper said.

He played hockey for the Anchorage Hockey Association starting at age 4. He was an adept downhill skier.

''He was a joy to be around and a fun kid,'' his dad said.

But as a teen-ager, he began doing drugs, including LSD, which his father believes wrecked his mind and his judgment.

''If you get any message out to these kids, get it out that this acid that they are all doing, a whole hell of a lot of them, they are altering their brains,'' Bob Esper said.

In March, Bobby Esper was released from McLaughlin Youth Center, where he had been institutionalized after three vehicle theft convictions in the juvenile system. The same month, he was arrested on new charges of vehicle theft and drunken driving, this time as an adult.

He voluntarily went to 50 days of residential alcohol and drug treatment, his father said. He was sentenced in June and put on probation.

Last week, he wasn't doing well at his job and maybe had relapsed, Bob Esper said. Monday morning, he was supposed to go in and talk with his boss, to straighten the situation out.

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