FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A preliminary report has cleared a Fairbanks police officer who fatally shot the driver of a van after an hour-long chase through the city during the weekend.
Fairbanks Deputy Police Chief James Welch said at a news conference Tuesday that Officer Perry Williamson was justified in the shooting.
Sunday night's shooting occurred after Williamson repeatedly tried to stop the driver, 22-year-old Corwin Vent, Welch said.
''The judgment was based on the officer's decision to protect his life and the life of others,'' Welch said. ''This decision was made after the community and law enforcement officers were placed at risk of serious bodily injury or death for over an hour.
Williamson has been a police officer in Fairbanks since 1982. He was placed on administrative leave for a minimum of three days while detectives conduct an internal investigation.
A handprint on the hood of the van and clothing fibers found on the front bumper support testimony by Williamson and witnesses, Welch said.
When the investigation is completed, the findings will be forwarded to the district attorney, who may ask other law enforcement agencies to look into the case, Welch said.
Sunday's pursuit began at 4:15 p.m. when police attempted to stop Vent for reckless driving on Airport Way. The borrowed van Vent was driving drove off and reached speeds estimated from 65 mph to 85 mph before police stopped the chase, officers said.
Welch said the department's policy is to abandon the pursuit if it creates a hazardous condition.
Police resumed the chase after police dispatch received calls reporting the same van driving recklessly around Fairbanks -- running red lights, passing other vehicles on the right and ''driving in total disregard for the safety of those around him,'' Welch said.
The van led police on a chase through the downtown area and onto Airport Way, according to a police statement released the night of the shooting.
Williamson parked his car in the intersection at Airport Way and Cowles in an effort to block traffic and stop the van, Welch said.
Instead, Vent drove slowly through two lanes of traffic, scraping a car beside him, a witness told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Welch said Williamson tried several times to get Vent to stop, but the van continued to move slowly forward. Welch said when the van's bumper touched his legs, Williamson fired three rounds into the windshield, killing Vent.
Williamson had leg abrasions from the contact, Welch said.
Vent was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A police statement says Vent told a passenger in the van he was driving with a suspended driver's license, had two outstanding warrants for his arrest and didn't want to go back to jail.
Vent had outstanding warrants for failure to appear for a hearing on a first-degree vehicle theft charge and for failure to appear on a criminal trespass charge.
Williamson had no prior knowledge of the warrants, or that Vent had also led police on a chase in 1997, Welch said.
Court records show that Vent led Fairbanks police on a chase in 1997, damaging a patrol car and a truck before driving into a ditch and leaving the scene before he later was arrested.
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