Family members suspected and JPD confirms that alcohol was a factor in fatal Juneau car crash

Glacier Highway stretches north on Oct. 4, 2016.
Glacier Highway, pictured here on Oct. 4, 2016, stretches north. The Juneau Police Department says a car with four people in it hit an embankment at Mile 22 early Thursday morning, sheared off a utility pole, and flipped end-over-end, killing two and seriously injuring two others. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Early Thursday morning, two people died and two were critically injured in a car wreck in Juneau.

Friday evening, the Juneau Police Department identified alcohol and speed as factors in the crash. Some family members already suspected alcohol played a role.

Ralph Watkins was with his son in Seattle on Friday. He said the 19-year-old is in a medically-induced coma and breathing with the help of a ventilator.

“He has two collapsed lungs, two broken shoulders. They believe there is a possible spinal fracture,” Watkins said. “And they’re just waiting until things stabilize a little more so they can do more tests. We’re hopeful, though. He has shown signs of progress.”

Watkins lives in Hoonah, where he’s the city schools superintendent. His son, Tyler Watkins, is a freshman at the University of Alaska Southeast.

“Imagine yourself as a parent, you get that phone call, and you’re three hours away from where your child is, and you don’t know what is going on,” Ralph Watkins said.

He said he got a similar call five years ago about his sister being hospitalized.

“Four hours later, my sister was dead. That’s — that’s what was going through my head, that that was my son. So, yeah, it’s been pretty intense,” he said.

Tyler Watkins was one of four people in the car that wrecked Thursday morning out the road in Juneau. A 19-year-old woman who police identified as Abigail Kelley and a 15-year-old boy died. An 18-year-old man was also hospitalized.

When he spoke with KTOO, Ralph Watkins didn’t know the details of what happened or what led to the crash, but he suspected heavy drinking played a part.

He said someone shared a disturbing Instagram video with him that was posted not long before the crash. He said it showed several “kids” passed out drunk. He said his son wasn’t in the video, but he knows his son was there.

He’s sharing all this because he wants it to be a wake-up call.

“As a superintendent, we see this behavior so often in our own community and with our own students. And it’s just — it’s been normalized. It’s just — people say, ‘Well, kids do that. That’s what they do.’ Well, if it is what they do, then we need to do something about that, because that ain’t cool. That’s not right, that’s not good, that’s not safe, that’s not smart.”

He wants something valuable to come of this.

“If not, it’s just a tragedy,” Watkins said.

Watkins said some teachers in Hoonah set up an online fundraising campaign for his son’s medical bills.

A mother of the 19-year-old woman who was killed, Abigail Kelley, reflected in a public Facebook post on her daughter’s life and death. She couldn’t be reached for comment directly. She thanked residents who helped report and respond to the crash. She also alluded to her child’s struggles with alcohol and said she was frustrated with how easy it was for her daughter to get it.

Juneau Police Department spokesperson Erann Kalwara could not immediately address if criminal charges are being considered. Police said the driver, a 19-year-old man, was in critical, medically unstable condition as of 3 p.m. Friday.

Juneau School District spokesperson Kristin Bartlett said a lot of faculty and students have known the young people in the crash and have ties. Bartlett said the district is offering support to students at Juneau’s three high schools through extra counselors, school psychologists and quiet spaces.

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications