The Kenai Peninsula lived up to its title as Alaska’s playground over the July Fourth weekend, with thousands of visitors making the trip south for the Mount Marathon race in Seward, salmon fishing in Kenai, halibut fishing in Homer or various other activities. Whatever their destination, they all had to make it through the drive along the Seward Highway, which proved to be a challenge with three major incidents slowing or completely halting traffic.
The first and most serious was a collision involving a motorcycle and an Alaska State Trooper vehicle Friday evening that left a 58-year-old Anchorage man dead and the highway closed for six hours.
Michael Kemper was seen speeding on a motorcycle around 7 p.m. Friday, heading south in the highway’s safety corridor at Mile 93. Troopers say Kemper ignored the signal to pull over and instead rode on the shoulder of the highway, between the guardrail and other traffic. The motorcycle collided with the back of a Chevy Suburban that had pulled over to yield to the trooper. That crash landed Kemper back in traffic, where the trooper’s vehicle hit him.
Kemper was wearing a helmet but was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was taken to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. Trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said that toxicology tests are being performed to determine whether drugs or alcohol were factors in the collision.
The name of the trooper involved was initially withheld citing trooper policy when troopers are involved in an on-duty shooting, but was released Sunday. It was Trooper Jeffrey F. Simpson, a veteran of nearly 13 years with the force, based in Girdwood with the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol since 2011. Ipsen said the incident is the first of its kind in the agency’s history.
The highway was reopened around 1 a.m. Saturday.
It was closed again Saturday night for two separate incidents. At about 7:40 p.m. a plane made an emergency landing near Potter Marsh just outside Anchorage. The Cessna, with three people aboard, apparently had a fuel problem. According to National Transportation Safety Board officials, no injuries were reported, though the plane clipped a car during the landing. The highway was closed for about 20 minutes while Anchorage police and fire crews responded and the plane was removed.
And at about 8 p.m., a Dodge pickup truck towing a boat and trailer drove off the highway into the swamp near Mile 89.5. Troopers say that 66-year-old Dana Lynn Dobson, of Wasilla, had been wearing his seat belt and was treated by medics at the scene. No other vehicles were involved in the incident. Damage to the truck was estimated at about $5,000, with an additional $2,000 in damage to the trailer. Dobson was cited for not carrying current proof of insurance and released at the scene.
The highway was sporadically closed for more than two hours as the pickup and trailer were recovered.