A single-car crash Thursday afternoon near Mendenhall River Community School escalated into a gun scare for 475 students.
Mendenhall Principal Diana Gifford described the incident, which happened as school was letting out, as a wake-up call.
"Our staff mobilized immediately to bring the kids inside. I am very thankful that no one else was injured. It gave us the opportunity to practice a drill, then to de-brief and look at what we need to work on to prepare for future emergencies," Gifford said.
The school was notified by a woman who lived nearby that "there is a man outside with a gun," Gifford said. "So I went out to hustle everybody in. And I went over to the police officers to see if any of our kids were involved," she said.
The Juneau Police Department received several calls at 2:24 p.m. Thursday of a man driving a blue Cadillac recklessly on Riverside Drive. Several callers reported the driver had rammed other vehicles.
As officers responded, more calls informed them the driver, 31-year-old Kenneth Cupps, had crashed into a ditch. He was transported to Bartlett Regional Hospital.
Police said alcohol is suspected as a factor in the incident. Because several people were endangered by Cupps' actions, charges may be filed, pending investigation, said Lt. Ron Forneris.
"It was too scary," said Riverside resident Elise Pringle. "This is the third event of the season where somebody ditched (his vehicle) near the school. We need more protection for this school."
The incident happened just two minutes after the school bell rang. "If he had come barreling down doing what he was doing seconds later, he would have taken out kids," Pringle said.
Pringle, the mother of six, was waiting for two daughters, second- and fifth-graders, to walk home from Mendenhall River school. When she heard the commotion, she first called 911 and then warned the school.
"I said, 'Don't let the children out!' My babies were coming home, and there was this guy all wigged out," Pringle said.
"On his first pass down the street, he was flailing his arms and yelling at a guy walking a little gray dog, 'I am going to (expletive) kill you,' " Pringle said.
Mendenhall school is at the corner of Riverside Drive and Tournure Street. The crosswalk is framed with two speed bumps on one side, and two on the other. Pringle lives by one set of bumps.
Another Riverside eyewitness, Larry Buzzell, said, "Police had their guns out (as they approached the Cadillac). When they asked him to raise his hands, he didn't. They realized when they got close enough, his face was like hamburger and he was out of it." Two children's car seats rode in back.
Buzzell, a 20-year resident, was in his driveway when Cupps made his first pass. Buzzell saw Cupps lock all four wheels, clear the speed bump and come to a "loud, smoking, skidding stop on the wrong side of the street. Then he put it in reverse and backed up, coming within an inch of a fence. He floored it and got out of there."
The school zone light was flashing, Buzzell said. Two minutes later he heard the car returning. "I ran over by the curb to get a good look at his face because I wanted to identify this guy in court."
When the Caddy made its second pass, it was going "easily 65 to 70 miles per hour," Buzzell said. It went airborne over the first speed hump, skidded and pancaked in the ditch "like Evel Knievel." "His head made a bulge the size of a basketball in the windshield, and the horn was blowing." The driver, dressed in camouflage, had a rifle with a scope and "highly polished" ammo on a seat. "This brought back images of people who kill kids at McDonald's," Buzzell said.
Gifford said she had heard from police that Cupps' wife was called, and said he had been hunting that morning.
Buzzell said he has spent 15 years trying to get the traffic near the school slowed down, even bearing the cost of a street light for a year himself.
Marijo Toner, Bartlett's regional affairs manager, said Cupps required airlifting to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Kristin Foley of Harborview said Cupps had a "possible head injury" and was in stable condition.
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