Anchorage, Alaska (AP) It was late July 2010, and the man driving the vehicle was John T. Walker, the man whose family owned a diner in Anchorage, and it had been an eventful few months.
Walker had just finished driving the Alaskans highway 1 bridge from its base in Fairbanks to Fairbanks, when the bridge collapsed in a landslide.
It was a moment he’d long been dreading, a moment when his family was crushed and he would never see his mother again.
His car slid along the narrow lane, smashing into the roadside diner, and Walker, now 74, died, as did the restaurant and the nearby motel where he had worked for decades.
“We had just had a Christmas party at the diner, so it was kind of a family reunion,” said Scott W. Pate, the owner of the diner and the hotel where Walker worked as a driver.
Walker was the only passenger on the highway at the time, but his family members were the ones who found the wreckage and helped pull him out of the wreckage.
Tremors were felt throughout the area for several hours, and a man who was riding in a pickup truck and saw the scene called 911 to report a landslide, but was told the bridge had been closed for repairs and was not accessible for rescuers.
Pate and his wife, Nancy, had just been in Fairview, Alaska, for the annual Christmas party when they learned Walker’s death.
On their way home, they stopped at the motel where Walker had worked, and they got in a car to take Walker’s body home, he said.
When they arrived at the Fairbanks motel, they found a body in the bathtub, and as the body was being removed, the couple called 911.
Nancy Pate was in Fairfield for the funeral of her brother, John Walker, who had died in the bridge landslide.
After the 911 call, she went to the scene and called the emergency dispatcher.
At the Fairview police station, a dispatcher who spoke with Walker’s wife told the police that a person matching Walker’s description was seen walking around the highway, and that a second man was seen in the motel, driving a white SUV with the number “F” on the back.
The police department, however, did not find any evidence that anyone matching Walker was in the Fairhaven motel at the moment of the landslide.
A search of the motel and nearby motel turned up nothing, and no one else matching Walker had been seen there.
The Anchorage Police Department, in a statement to the Associated Press, said it did not immediately have information on whether Walker was involved in the landslide or the crash.
Alaska’s Highway 1 bridge, which carries Interstate 5, collapsed in May 2010, killing Walker and another worker, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.
While the bridge was closed in June, the bridge and surrounding area remained closed for more than six weeks, until the bridge reopened in September.
Walker’s family members, however were not allowed to return to the bridge until March 2015, after it was reopened.
In an online memorial, Walker’s father, John T., wrote that he had just recently gotten his first driver’s license, and he was looking forward to a better life for his son.
But, he added, his son’s death did not change his feelings.
His father’s memory is forever etched in his mind, said the Rev. William J. Cottrell, president of the Alaska chapter of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Cottrell was one of Walker’s fellow church members at the memorial service.
John Walker had a long and varied career as a truck driver, and his business was an important part of his life, said Cottrel, who was in attendance and is a member of the church.
I want to thank everyone who supported John Walker’s business, including those who lost their lives in the disaster, Cottler said.
We hope that in time, people will remember him as an American hero who did not deserve to die that tragic day.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Walker family and the Walker business community.