Wohlers family wants Willow shooter charged and disputes AST's published account

Published: Apr. 6, 2018 at 12:56 PM AKDT
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A 25-year-old man lies paralyzed in Providence Hospital after being shot early Tuesday morning in Willow.

Trent Wohlers and his family are frustrated by

and that his shooter is not in custody, despite being contacted by Alaska State Troopers

Wohlers gave his account of the late-night shooting from his hospital bed. He described driving with his younger brother’s girlfriend, Ashley Newman, from Big Lake when he and another driver began ‘brake checking’ each other.

Wohlers claims he and the other driver were taking it in turns to follow each other before they both arrived at the Sunshine Community Clinic. The other driver immediately left as a truck pulled in being driven by a man wielding a loaded 12-gauge shotgun.

“He ran up toward my car door and as he did, he got about two feet from my car door, I swung at him one time and got his gun from him,” said Wohlers. He describes pointing the shotgun at the man, demanding he leave.

Wohlers says he then went back to his own car. The man “went into his truck and grabbed another gun and followed me back to my car, and as I was driving away unloaded seven rounds into the side of my car. The second round hit me, at that point I felt my whole lower body go numb.”

The incident wasn’t over. Wohlers describes that Newman was on the phone to troopers when the man came up to the car and ripped the shotgun from Wohlers' hands before fleeing.

Newman, 18, says troopers told her grandfather that a bullet missed her “by an inch or half an inch.”

Troopers arrived and Wohlers was taken by medical helicopter to Anchorage before Newman was questioned by investigators.

Alaska State Troopers tell a different story in their Daily Dispatch posted online, saying Wohlers followed a woman into Willow after an incident of road rage, when her boyfriend arrived. Wohlers claims he didn’t know it was a woman who was driving and that that description makes it sound like he was stalking her.

The details in the Trooper report are scant of what then led to the shooting, and Newman isn't mentioned. Troopers only wrote that “a physical altercation ensued which resulted in Wohlers getting shot.”

The dispatch then states that “all parties involved in the incident have been contacted,” yet only Wohlers was named, leading the Wohlers family to say it seemed as if he was being blamed for what happened.

Todd Wohlers, Trent’s father, says publishing his name before “getting all the facts” was irresponsible. “We’re a family owned and operated business, it’s affected my business, it’s affected my children at school and it’s had a complete adverse effect on my family as a whole.”

Megan Peters, a spokesperson for AST, would not provide a more detailed description of what happened or disclose the identity of the boyfriend, writing in an email that “investigators are declining to provide additional details at this time. It is an ongoing investigation.”

She did however clarify why only Wohlers was named publicly writing that “Wohlers was named in the dispatch due to the fact that he was shot and transported with life threatening injuries and his next of kin was notified. No one else was transported with injuries.”

The family is frustrated Wohlers’ shooter remains free despite being known to troopers. “He attempted to murder my son and Ashley in that car and the fact he is walking around free is completely maddening to me,” said Todd Wohlers.

John Skidmore, director of the Criminal Division in the Department of Law, cannot speak about specific cases but he explained in general that law enforcement has the discretion to decide when and where to arrest someone, which is separate from the process of filing charges.

A person involved in an incident who is known to police may not be arrested after an incident because there “may be some aspect of the investigation that law enforcement consults with prosecutors to make sure that we have appropriate or sufficient evidence to answer particular legal questions that we think would come up in the case if it were to go to trial and be prosecuted,” said Skidmore.

When asked why a person may not be arrested and taken into custody after a shooting, Skidmore said “whether or not a suspect is a danger is always something that is taken into consideration,” but there is also a time limit at play for law enforcement. “You only have 24 hours from the time someone is taken into custody or arrested" before they need to be in front of a judicial officer.

That figure changed with Senate Bill 91 from 48 hours but there has always been a desire and a legal need for a speedy process. The “preference is to have the investigation as complete as possible at the time that somebody is arrested,” said Skidmore.

Whether the investigation closes and charges are filed is yet to be seen. In the meantime, Wohlers has a severed spinal cord and two bullets in his body that doctors are afraid to move for fear of causing more damage. He is, however, philosophical about his future, saying “I’m trying to accept the reality of a whole new life.”