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More shooting details emerge: Hospital patient says she helped victim after he'd been wounded

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2008

A 57-year-old Soldotna woman was told by her doctor to go the hospital for a stress test the day before Thanksgiving.

She wound up in the middle of the gun violence at Central Peninsula Hospital that left one hospital director dead, one critically wounded and the shooter -- a hospital worker fired a day earlier -- shot and killed by police.

After being treated in the hospital's Emergency Department earlier in November for chest pains, Wacona Vandehey was scheduled for a stress test at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 26.

Because doctors feared she might have a heart problem, she dutifully reported for the test on time, leaving about 1 1/2 hours later when it was done.

She had just left the testing area and meandered down the hall trying to find her way back out of the hospital to head home.

Without too much effort, she found the hallway leading to the main entrance of the hospital's new Mountain Tower and went outside.

"I just dropped my coat and purse to get things out to roll a cigarette when I heard this loud sound," Vandehey said. "I thought it was a Dumpster lid shutting, but then I realized it was gunfire. It sounded strange. I couldn't tell quite where it was coming from."

Her immediate thought was, "Who'd be shooting in town?"

Being Alaska, though, it might just be someone scaring off a critter -- a moose -- charging a kid.

Seconds later, she saw a man running out of the building, holding his right hand up to his neck, with his elbow pointing out in front of him.

"He was yelling, 'I've been shot. I've been shot,' maybe even three times. He started coming towards me," Vandehey said.

She saw blood starting to trickle down his right wrist.

What she was seeing made no sense.

Why was a man who is injured coming out of the hospital? Injured people go into the hospital.

About five or six people were standing in the hospital parking lot partway between the door the wounded man was exiting, near the former hospital gift shop location, and the new main hospital entrance where Vandehey was.

"He ran past them and they were just standing there," she said.

The man she would later learn was hospital Information Services Director Mike Webb, was loudly yelling, definitely trying to get people's attention ... trying to get help.

"I realized somebody had to do something. I needed to alert the hospital to call Emergency Services," Vandehey said.

She turned around to go in the entrance and told someone at the front desk to call 911.

"I told them there's a shooter inside the hospital and a man outside who's been shot," she said.

Vandehey asked a man standing there to come help her and she pivoted, going right back out the door. The man didn't follow.

She headed straight toward Webb, even thinking at the time the shooter might be stalking him.

"Somebody had to help him. He was losing strength," she said.

Vandehey moved as quickly as she could toward Webb, meeting him halfway between the two hospital entrances.

She asked if he wanted her to help him, and he only nodded, yes.

Looking around to see if she could spot the shooter, Vandehey took Webb by the right elbow as he started to lose even the grip on his neck wound.

"I wanted to see if he was thinking clearly so I asked him his name," she said. "He looked directly into my eyes and enunciated loudly, 'Mike Webb.' I asked where is the shooter and he motioned with his left arm, saying, 'In the back.'"

Being only 4 feet, 9 inches tall, Vandehey doesn't know how, but she and Webb managed to get into the hospital through the front door.

"He had quite a will. He was quite big compared to me," she said.

In the front entrance, suddenly about five or six people were there in front of Vandehey when she said she needed a wheelchair.

"An older woman, wearing a hospital name tag, said something that absolutely shocked me -- 'Are you kidding?' or 'Are you joking?' -- something like that. That just shocked the heck out of me," Vandehey said. "I really didn't have time to deal with her. I just said, 'No."

Someone grabbed a wheelchair and brought it.

Webb just collapsed into it.

"I said, 'Get him to E.R.,'" Vandehey said.

At that point, she thought, these are hospital personnel, they know what's going on, she's just in the way.

Although she said she read in the Peninsula Clarion that Webb pulled a fire alarm as he entered the hospital, in an apparent attempt to warn others to get out of the building, she does not remember hearing any alarm.

Hospital spokeswoman Camille Sorensen, on Thursday, said a hospital investigation shows no alarm was physically pulled at the time, but and automatic alarm did go off and was sounding.

Vandehey went back outside, picked up her coat and purse and started walking away from the hospital.

"Something just told me to get away from the hospital," she said. "I didn't know why."

She doesn't recall if she heard another gunshot at that point or not, but she did start hearing a commotion behind her and could tell the shooter was coming.

"People were driving by rubbernecking and I started yelling, 'Get out of here. There's a shooter in the hospital and he's coming this way. Get out of here,'" she said.

Most of the people in the cars just looked at her as if she were quite insane. Perhaps it was Webb's blood on her hand, though she does not know whether or not they saw it.

"I heard another shot behind me, this time a lot closer," she said.

Knowing she was in the direct line of sight, she figured there was a good possibility she was going to get shot.

She didn't look back.

Vandehey started heading toward cover behind some parked cars on her right, still thinking she is in the shooter's line of sight.

Heading toward a maroon-colored sport utility vehicle, she heard another shot.

"I don't know if it was adrenaline or a bullet going by ... quite a gust of air hit the side of my head," she said.

Diving to the ground, she scrambled for cover behind the SUV, hearing the shooter talking, but not being able to make out what he was saying.

What was important was getting out of his line of sight.

She moved to the front of the SUV and crouched down between it and the parking barrier.

She stayed right there.

Then she thought of her friend who was scheduled to come by and pick her up at about that time. She called on her cell phone, warning her to keep away and warn all other friends to steer clear of the hospital.

"It seemed like forever. Then I heard someone walking up behind me. I thought the shooter somehow got behind me," Vandehey said.

As she looked back, she saw it was a police officer. He had his gun drawn, covering the shooter, and asked quietly if she was OK.

"I looked like a deer in the headlights," she said. "I just shook my head and said, 'Yeah, I'm fine.'"

When the policeman saw she would not be in immediate danger, he motioned for her to get going toward the east end of the hospital building. She walked as quickly as she could, keeping low.

When she got to the corner of the building, she looked back and could see the shooter still had his rifle.

"Then this lady showed up at my side -- an older volunteer. She said, 'Come get in my car.'" Vandehey said.

Another woman -- a hospital employee -- was also in the car and the three waited quite some time. By watching the crowd of onlookers, they could tell the shooter was pacing back and forth, though they could not see him.

"Then we heard gunshots ... I can't say how many ... a few," she said.

The crowd started moving about and the women spotted another police officer who told them the shooter -- Joseph Marchetti -- was dead.

Sobbing, Vandehey said, at that point, she had time to stop and think. She asked people if Webb had been shot again. No one would say.

She found Alaska State Trooper cold case investigator Lindy Minnick and gave her account of the incident.

"I thought there might be something useful," Vandehey said.

"I just want the family to know Mr. Webb was not alone. Someone was there with him," she said. "I feel so bad for everybody's families."

Funeral services for James Michael Webb were conducted in Oregon on Thursday. Central Peninsula Hospital made arrangements for employees to participate in Soldotna via one-way teleconference. A memorial service was also planned.

Hospital Imaging Director Margaret Stroup, who was also shot by Marchetti, remains hospitalized in Anchorage.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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