Teen account of car crash differs from police officers'

Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A teen-ager who exited 19-year-old Robert Esper's vehicle shortly before he crashed into an Anchorage Police patrol car July 9 disputes the police version of events preceding the fatal crash.

Ashley Shetters, 15, and two other teens got out of the Chevrolet Blazer driven by Robert Esper, 19, at a trailer park shortly before it crashed into a patrol car driven by Justin Wollam, 33, on the Glenn Highway.

Wollam, Esper, and two passengers in the Blazer - Makayla Lewis, 16, and Heidi Weilbacher, 14 - died in the crash. Savanah Fielding, 15, was thrown from the Blazer and critically injured.

Contrary to what police have reported, Shetters said, two officers chased Esper before he lost them and ended up at a dead end in a trailer park.

Shetters said the incident began with a gathering of underage friends at a trailer. Ronald Frank, 30, and Michael Hunter, 31, have been charged with buying alcohol for the group.

As the gathering wound down about 3 a.m., Esper was the only one left with a vehicle. He volunteered to take Weilbacher home and other youths to the home of Shetters to spend the night.

Police said they suspect Esper was intoxicated when he left the gathering, but Shetters said he was not drunk. Toxicology results have not been released.

A police officer spotted Esper driving erratically and activated her overhead lights. Esper kept driving.

At a July 16 news conference, Detective Bob Butcher said per department policy the officer "almost immediately backed off and let the vehicle continue on its way."

Shetters, however, said the officer pursued and Esper managed to lose her.

Several minutes later, a second officer spotted Esper's Blazer. The second officer also attempted to stop Esper, and again Esper continued speeding away. Butcher said that officer backed off as well.

Shetters said the second officer also gave chase, and Esper pulled into the Dimond Estates trailer park, temporarily losing the officer and ending up at a dead end. Shetters and two other teens got out.

While fleeing police, Esper took a shot of liquor, Ashley said.

Travis Barrett, 19, also got out of the back seat. Ryan Nichols, 18, left the front seat. Weilbacher remained in the front seat and Lewis and Fielding in the rear. Shetters said she encouraged them to get out as well.

Two officers approached on foot and hollered at Esper not to drive away. He ignored their command.

"If the cops didn't show up in that trailer park," she said, "they would all get out and we would have walked and no one would be dead."

Police at the trailer park took Shetters and Barrett into custody. Esper took off in the Blazer and within the hour drove north in the southbound lane of the Glenn Highway, crashing head-on into Officer Wollam.

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