Fleeing truck kills motorist
Driver of stolen pickup eludes police, rams cars, broadsides father of three at cross street
By TATABOLINE BRANT and KATIE PESZNECKER
Anchorage Daily News
Published: February 1, 2006
Last Modified: February 1, 2006 at 03:04 AM
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A father of three small children was killed Tuesday when the driver of a stolen pickup, who had rammed half a dozen other vehicles trying to get away from police, slammed into a sedan at a high speed at a Lake Otis Parkway intersection, police said.
The stolen truck had eluded them for miles, officers said, and they had shot at it after it slammed several vehicles before the fatal collision, but they said they were not chasing it when it fled north on Lake Otis, ran a red light at 20th Avenue and broadsided the sedan, killing Stephen J. Strain, 35, of Anchorage. The collision folded the victim's car into a mass of metal and scattered pieces of the vehicle into nearby yards.
The driver of the pickup leaped out and fled on foot, and dozens of officers, a police dog and a helicopter fanned out across Airport Heights to find him. About 30 minutes later, Kristopher Felber, 21, was found hiding in a backyard at Toklat Street and 20th Avenue and was taken into custody.
Felber, who was wanted on an outstanding warrant for domestic violence, is charged with second-degree murder and several other felonies and is being held at the Anchorage jail in lieu of $200,000 bail.
At least 16 vehicles were damaged in the string of collisions, police said, and several of their occupants were treated by medics or at the hospital. The violent episode closed busy roads for hours, snarled traffic well into the afternoon and prompted seven schools near where the shots were fired to go into lockdown mode.
The pickup was stolen just before 8 a.m. from East Sixth Avenue and Kim Place, according to its owner, Philip Quinn, who said he had left it warming up in his driveway while he ran inside to grab some papers he needed for work. Elizabeth Quinn said her husband's truck was unlocked.
"I wasn't in the house even a minute when I looked up and it was gone," Philip Quinn said. "It was just unbelievable."
The couple called police immediately. The stolen pickup was used for the Quinn's lighting maintenance business, Light'n Up, and had a phone number on it. Elizabeth Quinn said that while she was on hold with police, a man called on another line to complain that their company pickup was speeding and driving erratically.
"I said, 'It's stolen -- where are you?' "
The Quinns said the man followed the pickup and relayed its location to them and they told police.
"It was scary -- and I wasn't even behind the guy," Philip Quinn said.
The man who called the Quinns was too upset to say much when reached at his home Tuesday afternoon.
The man said he followed the stolen truck in an effort to aid the owner and "help police get the bad guy." He declined to answer other questions or give his name, saying he feared retaliation against him or his family by the driver.
Police kept track of the vehicle but never began a full pursuit with lights and sirens for fear of creating an accident in morning rush-hour traffic, police Chief Walt Monegan said at an afternoon press conference.
Officers first tried to stop the pickup near Lovejoy Drive, just east of the Northern Lights Boulevard and Lake Otis intersection. Two officers shot at the pickup after it rammed four vehicles and two police cruisers there, Monegan said. He declined to say how many shots were fired. The officers have been put on administrative leave in keeping with department policy.
None of the shots hit the pickup driver, Monegan said.
The man was using the 1-ton, four-wheel-drive truck "like a tank, pushing the other cars out of the way," Monegan said. "Two of our officers felt there was enough public safety danger" to shoot.
The shots and uncertainty about what was happening stirred administrators at seven schools to go into lockdown or stay-put status. The schools were East High School, King Career Center, Wendler Middle School, Whaley School, Airport Heights Elementary, Lake Otis Elementary and Rogers Park Elementary.
However, the incident did not spill onto school grounds, Anchorage School District spokesman Roger Fiedler said.
State Senate candidate Bill Wielechowski was driving nearby on Northern Lights when the chaos broke out.
"I see this black truck pull up right next to me and go zipping by and I see four police cars go right behind him with the lights off -- lights not on, not flashing or anything," he said. "I pulled toward the intersection of Lake Otis and Northern Lights. There's a pileup there."
Wielechowski said he was about 50 yards away when police got out of their vehicles and surrounded the pickup.
"They get out with the guns drawn and are pointing at this black truck. (The vehicle) goes over the median and they start firing -- they opened fire! ... Several cars around me started to peel off and do U-turns and leave in different directions. The black truck started going the wrong way on Northern Lights and he turned on Lake Otis and it was just mayhem -- police cars chasing after him. I was amazed he got away."
Monegan said that when the pickup hopped the median, a police officer on that side of the road switched on his lights to follow but got stuck in traffic. There was no chase, he said.
Greg Solomon was also headed west on Northern Lights when the shooting took place.
"I noticed ahead of me there were lights flashing and policemen prowling past with guns drawn," he said.
Solomon said he was stopped in traffic and police "were looking in every vehicle but mostly in this truck two cars behind me -- it was the stolen truck, I learned afterward. They circled him and ordered him out, and he rammed into the car behind me and shoved it out of the way and shoved it into another car and hit the car in the other lane next to me, and he was coming up on my bumper next and I thought, 'Oh, crap, I'm going to get hit,' so I pull up to the vehicle next to me."
That basically formed a wall of cars, Solomon said, but it didn't stop the pickup driver.
"He ran over the 3-foot berm of snow in the median. That's when officers fired shots at him," he said. "The fact that the shots were fired, that surprised me, because they were right in line with Wendler's portable (classrooms). Those are just made of wood."
Solomon said he heard three shots and then an officer yelling, "Stand down, no shooting."
"After that it was basically people just trying to get out of there, cops zooming through. I looked around me to see if there were any injured people, but they just looked shaken up."
Solomon said he was, too: "I was watching "CSI" last night and thinking, I'm so glad this doesn't happen in real life. Wrong! I had gotten out of bed, thinking another boring day, sitting in traffic. Now I wish it was."
Police estimated the pickup was going up to 85 mph as it sped down Lake Otis toward 20th Avenue. There, it ran a red light and smashed into Strain's Chevrolet Impala, destroying the car and sending it careening 150 feet down the road.
Several other vehicles were damaged in the collision. The pickup came to rest a few blocks away, and the driver fled on foot into City View neighborhood with police in pursuit. Felber was taken into custody a short time later in a nearby backyard, police said.
An officer with the police department's drug detection unit assessed the suspect and concluded he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Monegan said. Toxicology tests are pending.
Strain, the sole occupant of the Impala, had returned Monday from his job on the North Slope. Police believe he died instantly. He leaves behind his wife of eight years and three children, ages 2, 5 and 7.
Elizabeth Quinn began crying over the phone when she learned that a bystander had been killed with her husband's stolen pickup.
"The vehicles can always be replaced, but a life can't," she said.
Monegan said that although it is technically illegal to leave an unlocked vehicle idling unattended, he doesn't expect the pickup owners will be charged.
Felber faces a slew of charges in addition to second-degree murder, including felony eluding, felony theft, driving while intoxicated, driving with his license suspended and four counts of felony assault.
Felber's criminal record includes charges of drunken driving, burglary, theft, assault and reckless driving, according to a data base of public records. "We've met him several times," Monegan said.
His arraignment is scheduled for today.
I hope that this is the last time we meet this fucker.
The victim's Impala, truck in foreground is one that was hit in the rampage.