Anchorage man charged with manslaughter, marijuana DUI in Seward Highway crash last summer

Jun. 14—An Anchorage man was arrested last week on charges of manslaughter and driving under the influence of marijuana in a criminal case related to a deadly Seward Highway collision last summer.

Lester Wilde Jr., 47, had been driving over 100 mph on the Seward Highway after vaping marijuana when he struck a motor home Aug. 8 in the Turnagain Pass area, according to charges filed in the case. The crash left 46-year-old Jeffrey Andrews dead and three people injured.

Sam Curtis, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Law, said the roughly 10-month gap between when the fatal crash occurred and when charges were filed was due to the wait time for toxicology results. In the meantime, Wilde was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in a separate incident in May.

Last August, Wilde told investigators he drove from Anchorage to go fishing in Kenai with Andrews and another man, but they decided to return that same night because "it was too busy," according to a summary of police reports written by Assistant District Attorney David Buettner and included with charging documents.

Wilde's Toyota sedan crossed into oncoming traffic near Turnagain Pass and collided with the motor home just after 10 p.m. that night, Alaska State Troopers said at the time. Investigators later estimated he was driving around 110 mph, the charges said.

People in the motor home described the car as fishtailing before crossing over the center line, the charges said. Wilde told troopers the ruts on the road pulled his vehicle and caused him to hydroplane, the charges said. Light rain was falling at the time, and a responding trooper noted the road was wet but there wasn't a significant amount of standing water, according to the charges.

Troopers found that the car split in two during the collision, the charges said. A backseat passenger climbed out of the window, and Andrews died in the front seat, the charges said.

Wilde and the surviving passenger were injured and treated at a hospital, the charges said. The driver of the motor home was also brought to the hospital with injuries and a juvenile was later taken to a clinic for minor injuries, the charges said.

The Seward Highway partially closed for about 10 hours after the collision.

Wilde told an investigator he had "vaped THC" — the main psychoactive component in marijuana — a few hours before the collision, the summary said. He ranked his impairment at a five on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest he's ever been, the charges said. The surviving passenger told troopers that they had vaped about every half-hour during the drive, the charges said.

A warrant was used to obtain a vial of Wilde's blood and it showed two types of THC in his system, the charges said.

Testing for "drugged driving" is problematic because there is no national standard for impairment as there is for alcohol, according to a brief prepared for the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Alaska, officers base arrests on observed impairment.

In some states, THC impairment is defined as more than 5 nanograms per milliliter present in blood, but drugs affect people differently and marijuana can stay in a person's system for weeks, the brief said. Wilde's blood was found to contain 10.6 nanograms per milliliter of Delta-9 THC, or active THC, the charges said.

Wilde is facing charges of manslaughter, driving under the influence and three felony assault charges from the collision. An arrest warrant was issued at the end of May, and he was taken into custody Friday, according to online court records. As of Tuesday afternoon, he was in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex and being held on $10,000 bail.

Wilde had been arrested in a separate incident 11 days before charges were filed related to the deadly crash.

In the May 14 incident in the Clam Gulch Beach area, he is accused of biting off the tip of a man's finger and then driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, troopers said. His breath alcohol content at the time was nearly three times the legal limit for driving, according to troopers. He was arrested on misdemeanor charges of fourth-degree assault and driving under the influence.