The Alaska State Trooper who, along with a Wasilla Police Department officer, opened fired on a suspected drunk driver Sunday night, killing the driver and injuring a passenger, was involved in another fatal shooting in 2009.
The officers involved were identified as Daron A. Cooper, a six-year trooper veteran and a K-9 handler in the Palmer Patrol Unit, and patrol officer Brandon L. Gray, a two-year Wasilla policeman.
The investigation into 52-year-old Gordon E. Samel’s death is ongoing, troopers say. This is the second time investigators have been called upon to decide if Cooper was justified in using deadly force. In November 2009, Cooper, three other troopers, and a trooper recruit shot and killed a Wasilla woman who leveled a shotgun at them, the Associated Press reported.
Troopers reported that prior to the shooting, 58-year-old Nora Jean York repeatedly said she intended to commit “suicide by cop.” They responded after York’s significant other called police and said the woman was “suicidal and threatening him with a shotgun,” the AP reported. All five troopers opened fired on York.
The state’s Department of Law found the shooting was justified.
Since 2002, there have been 27 trooper-involved shootings. Troopers’ spokesperson Beth Ipsen said two troopers, who both have 30-plus years with the law enforcement agency, could not recall “a trooper being criminally charged as the result of a shooting.”
Cooper is a regular on National Geographic’s “Alaska State Troopers,” making appearances in seasons two through five, including episodes titled “Deep Woods Standoff” and “Shotgun Showdown.” That’s according to Cooper’s own IMDB webpage, which lists the episodes in which he plays himself and an entire episode from season four.
The recent fatal shooting in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough began when someone called in what he or she suspected were two drunk men inside a white Chevrolet truck Sunday around 8:30 p.m. A trooper reportedly spotted the Chevy less than 10 minutes later, parked behind it and knocked on the window. The occupants allegedly didn’t cooperate and decided to flee.
The Chevy was driven along the Parks Highway before turning onto a side street, where troopers and Wasilla police circled the truck. Cooper and Gray approached on foot. Samel, a Wasilla local, allegedly drove the vehicle in reverse toward the officers, both of whom opened fire.
Samel was pronounced dead at the scene. The Wasilla man had been arrested 19 times over about three decades, according to online court records. His criminal record includes convictions for reckless driving, assault, and drug possession, among others. He was still under the thumb of the state’s judicial system at the time of his death for a DUI arrest in September.
Besides Samel’s criminal notoriety, he’s also credited as the moose hunter who in 1992 found the body of Chris McCandless, the young wanderer made famous by author Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book “Into the Wild.”