Homegrown hero makes habit of saving lives

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2001

Soldotna High School graduate Larry Erickson has saved lives on three different occasions in the line of duty. He currently is visiting his parents in Soldotna while on vacation from his Alaska State Trooper post in Fairbanks.

Erickson, who graduated from Soldotna High School in 1986, recently has received honors for saving a 1-year-old baby in a submerged car.

The car had plunged into the Chena River in Fairbanks and was moving downstream with the current at the time. Erickson dove under the murky water and fought to hold the door open while cutting the straps holding the baby in her car seat.

In 1996, Erickson tracked a fleeing suspect for five hours in 20-below weather. When the man was located, he was unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. Erickson provided the necessary body heat to keep the man alive until help arrived.

As a military police officer in 1988, Erickson helped a man begin breathing again following a traffic accident.

Erickson takes it all in stride. As the only trooper in Alaska working with a dual-purpose dog (narcotics and patrol), Erickson is used to having an unpredictable day. He was trained in canine duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, but he has been working with his dog, Nissan, for the last year.

He knew he was going to be a police officer ever since he was 5 years old and he got in trouble for playing with fireworks, Erickson said. His goals since then have been to serve in the military and work in law enforcement.

For Erickson, though, his priority is family. His wife, Rachel, graduated from Kenai Central High School. Their relationship began when Erickson came home on military leave from Panama. Erickson's stepmother picked him up from the airport and took him straight to a blind dinner date she had arranged for him with Rachel.

Two weeks later, he proposed. The two have been married for 11 years.

"I don't think I have the words to say how proud I am of him for what he's done," Rachel said.

They plan to move back to the Kenai Peninsula with their three children when Erickson can be transferred.

Erickson's father, Larry Erick-son Sr., and stepmother, Sharilyn Erickson, admit they are proud of their son and somewhat apprehensive of the risks he is called on to take. He has integrity and determination, they said.

Erickson is more modest about his accomplishments. Any of the other officers on the scene at the Chena River -- Troopers Brian Barlow and Mark Eldridge and Fairbanks Police Officer Scott Adams -- would have jumped in the water if they had arrived first, Erickson said.

Erickson has been nominated for an award for valor, the highest award a trooper can receive. He also has been nominated for a state heroism award.

Of all his experiences in law enforcement, his most recent rescue is one of the most rewarding.

"To know that (the baby) is going to live because of something I did is amazing," he said.

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