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Police captain retires shortly after accident

ACCIDENT REPORT: Alcohol may have been a factor, it says.

A senior Anchorage police captain abruptly retired earlier this year, 10 days after his abandoned police car turned up in a ditch along the Glenn Highway in what investigators suspect was an alcohol-involved accident, according to police and an accident investigation report.

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Tom Nelson, captain of the police department's special teams and a 23-year veteran of the force, abruptly retired Jan. 14, shortly after police received questions about the traffic accident, Lt. Dave Parker said.

"We can say he honorably retired shortly after the incident," Parker said.

After 20 years of service, officers are eligible to retire with full benefits, and they can do so without notice at the time of their choosing, Parker said.

The Daily News first inquired about Nelson's accident on Jan. 6, two days after it happened. At the time, deputy police chief Ross Plummer, citing an ongoing investigation, would only say that an unspecified officer was under internal investigation and that a criminal investigation had found no laws had been broken.

This week, Plummer released the accident report but said city attorneys had authorized the department to release only the following statement:

"Tom Nelson separated from the municipality. At the time of his separation he was a captain with the Anchorage Police Department," Plummer said. "The separation is a confidential personnel matter."



He directed inquiries to the city officials, who, citing privacy laws, also would not discuss the result of the internal investigation.


"Based on legal advice, personnel issues are confidential and there is a privacy right in these matters," said Lisa Arnold, acting employee relations director. "We treat all personnel issues as confidential information, so any ... result of an internal investigation would fall under that confidentiality."

Repeated efforts to contact Nelson at his home and through the police department were unsuccessful.

According to the police accident report, Nelson's city-owned vehicle, a bronze Chevrolet Impala, had been heading out of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway along the S-curves the night of Jan. 4. The pavement was dry and the night clear when the vehicle slid off the road before the weigh station and broke down in the median, causing damage to the vehicle in excess of $501, the report says.

Minutes later, a police officer on his way to work pulled onto the Glenn at Hiland Road and headed south. Seeing the vehicle with its headlights on in the center median, he called dispatch to report the distressed vehicle at 10:09 p.m., the report says.

The officer, Jonathan Lee, saw at least two people on the roadway near the passenger door, although he couldn't describe them, the accident report says.

"As I slowed and looked back I saw a vehicle outbound had turned its flashers on near where the vehicle was at," Lee wrote in the report.

By the time officer Shawn Davies arrived on scene at 10:18 p.m., no one was there.

The report indicates a police supervisor, Sgt. Gerard Asselin, was dispatched to Nelson's home to find out what had happened. There, Nelson told Asselin that an unknown vehicle had maneuvered in a way that caused him to crash into the ditch, the report says.

The report does not offer an explanation for why Nelson left his police vehicle at the scene of the accident without reporting it.

It does say that alcohol is suspected in the cause of the crash but doesn't indicate if or how long after the accident Nelson was given a breath-alcohol test, which under city law is required of municipal employees following an accident.

Police, citing personnel laws, refused to release further details on the case, including the results of any alcohol test Nelson took. They would say only that no crime had been committed -- indicating that the results of any such test did not break the .08 blood-alcohol content threshold for driving under the influence.

"The criminal procedures were followed and he was not found to be DUI," Parker said.

A message left at the municipal attorney's office seeking comment on the city policy regarding alcohol use on the job drew a response from mayoral spokeswoman Jenny Evans.

She pointed to, but said she couldn't interpret, a section of the law that says city employees cannot work or drive a city vehicle if they have a blood-alcohol content of .02 or more.

Under the city code, municipal employees testing between .02 and .03 will be disciplined but not terminated on the test results alone. Employees testing .04 or greater can be fired.

City law on reporting accidents requires any driver involved in an accident resulting in total property damage to "an apparent extent" of $500 or more to "immediately by the quickest means of communication" notify police.

Parker said he didn't know the specifics of why Nelson wasn't charged with failing to report the accident or with leaving its scene, but that there could have been a problem proving the case.


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