Anchorage police say teen deliberately drove into patrol car

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Robert Esper deliberately drove his Chevrolet Blazer into Anchorage Police Officer Justin Wollam's police cruiser, causing a crash that killed four people, police said Monday.

Esper had earlier attempted to run down five other officers and a civilian, police said.

Esper, 19, two of his teen-age passengers and Wollam died in the July 9 collision on the Glenn Highway north of Fort Richardson. Savanah Fielding, 15, was critically injured.

Police initially said they believed Esper accidentally collided with Wollam.

''Had Robert Esper survived this collision,'' said Detective Bob Butcher, ''he would have been charged with murder in the second degree.''

Police spokesman Ron McGee said a decision on whether to classify the deaths of Wollam, 16-year-old Makayla Lewis and 14-year-old Heidi Weilbacher as homicides has yet to be made.

Police held a news conference to brief reporters on the investigation and to address misinformation released last week. Butcher attributed initial false reports to the chaos and shock that police officers felt after the collision.

A week later, police said, they now have a clearer idea of what happened after 3 a.m. that day, when Esper left a party at a mobile home in his father's Blazer with six teens.

An officer spotted Esper driving erratically in east Anchorage and attempted to stop him, but he fled. The officer backed off, per department pursuit policy, and radioed the vehicle's description.

Esper ignored other officers as he sped to south Anchorage. One of Esper's passengers told police that Esper reached speeds of 100 mph.

At one point, Esper and three passengers left the Blazer at a trailer court. Monday was the first time police divulged that Esper had gotten out of the car.

Two officers spotted the Blazer in a wooded area. They could not maneuver their cruisers to block the vehicle in, so they approached on foot, Butcher said. Esper spotted the pair and ran back for the car, ignoring an officer's shouts.

After the flight from officers resumed, Esper aimed his car at a police cruiser and the officer had to take evasive action to avoid a head-on collision as Esper drove down the center of the road.

A second officer also had to swerve to avoid him and a shift lieutenant actually leaned over in the front seat of his car because he though a collision was imminent, Butcher said.

''The lieutenant told all units to back off, stay away from the vehicle,'' Butcher said. ''Instructions had been given for a couple officers to follow at a safe distance so the vehicle's progress could be monitored as it traveled through the city.''

Officers hoped Esper would flee the Blazer and take off on foot. Instead, Esper sped toward downtown, running red lights and nearly crashing into a car.

After driving the wrong way down a one-way street, Esper eventually entered the Glenn Highway heading toward Eagle River.

Two miles before the fatal collision, Esper crossed the median and continued north in the southbound lanes at speeds approaching 90 mph.

Two officers were heading to Anchorage from Eagle River. The first swerved onto the shoulder to avoid Esper. Shortly after, Esper saw Wollam, approaching about 60 mph with his lights flashing.

''Officers who had been following outbound on the highway watched the patrol officer steer to the right, try to get as much room between himself and Esper as possible,'' Butcher said.

''To their horror and amazement, they watched Esper deliberately steer toward the approaching patrol car.''

The vehicles collided at a combined speed of 130 mph to 150 mph about 4 a.m., he said, creating a fireball.

Esper didn't appear to be acting suicidal, Butcher said.

''If that were the case, he could have killed himself a lot sooner than he did,'' he said. ''I believe what we had was a 19-year-old who was intoxicated. ... This was a kid who thought if he drove recklessly enough and tried to run cops off the road, that he would be the top dog.''

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