Tape describes efforts to stop Blazer that crashed into patrol car

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Police officers alternated between aggressive efforts to stop Robert Esper and passive actions of following him at a distance while he fled across the city for 33 minutes on July 9, newly released police records indicate.

Esper, 19, and two other teen-agers died when Esper smashed a Chevrolet Blazer into an Anchorage Police patrol car driven by Officer Justin Wollam, 33, on the Glenn Highway. Wollam also died. A third teen-age passenger in Esper's vehicle was injured.

Anchorage police Wednesday released tapes of radio communications from the morning of the crash. The Anchorage Daily News filed a lawsuit Monday in Superior Court to obtain them, and Judge Eric Sanders had set a Thursday hearing. Municipal Attorney Bill Greene agreed late Wednesday to release the tapes and a written record.

According to the tapes, pursuit of Esper began after Officer Kristie Neddeau spotted him and radioed in a ''traffic stop,'' her intention to pull the vehicle over, at 3:23 a.m. She said the 1985 Chevrolet Blazer appeared suspicious and might have had a a drunken driver behind the wheel.

Neddeau pursued the Blazer for one minute, then called in, ''They're not stopping. I'm 10-6ing (disregarding).'' The department has a general policy of not pursuing vehicles at high speeds.

She asked the dispatcher to phone the registered owner, Esper's father.

A few minutes later, a second officer pursued the Blazer for 90 seconds, his siren blaring as he called in his position.

As a supervisor attempted to arrange for spike strips to be placed in front of the vehicle, officers lost Esper for about eight minutes. He ended up at a dead-end in south Anchorage. Three teens exited the vehicle and the pursuit resumed after officers spotted the Blazer

The tape records officers reporting Esper running off the road to dodge spike strips, officers backing off from high-speed pursuit in hopes that Esper would stop, and a supervisor ordering an officer to ''take him out'' if he threatens oncoming traffic by driving in the wrong lanes.

The crash occurred at 3:56 a.m. as Esper drove north in the southbound lanes of the six-lane Glenn Highway.

The tape provided to the Anchorage Daily News contained a four-minute gap. Officers switched radio channels after Esper crossed into a different police sector. Detective Everett Robbins said police will provide another copy with the missing communications. He said an early version of the tape, which had the gap, must have been erroneously copied.

Internal affairs officers are investigating whether police followed the department's vehicular pursuit procedures while trying to stop Esper.

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