JUNEAU, Alaska — An Alaskan moose hunter whose discovery of the corpse of a wanderer two decades ago helped lead to the 2007 movie “Into the Wild” has been shot and killed by police after a weekend chase through the city of Wasilla, state troopers said.
Police said Gordon E. Samel, 52, who played a small but important role in author Jon Krakauer’s book about wanderer Chris McCandless, which was made into a movie by Sean Penn, on Sunday fled police who had approached his vehicle in response to a report about possible drunken driving.
“As the state trooper knocked on the side of the pickup to contact the occupants, it drove off and circled around several small businesses in the area,” an Alaska State Trooper report said.
It said Samel then led law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase along the city’s main thoroughfare, briefly against traffic, and at times into lightly populated residential areas before he ultimately was blocked at an intersection.
When a state trooper and a Wasilla police officer approached the truck on foot, Samel backed up the truck toward the officer, prompting both the officer and trooper to fire their handguns, the report said. Samel was declared dead at the scene.
A passenger suffered an injury that wasn’t serious to one of his arms and was released without being charged.
Samel was among a party of moose hunters who discovered McCandless’ corpse in an abandoned bus in a remote part of the Alaska wilderness north of Mount McKinley.
Krakauer, in writing about McCandless’s death, looked to Samel for insights into the young man’s behavior, including his agonizing over killing what he thought was a moose.
It was not a moose but a caribou, Krakauer learned from Samel, according to his book “Into the Wild.”
“There’s a big difference between a moose and a caribou,” Samel was quoted as saying in the book. “A real big difference. You’d have to be pretty stupid not to be able to tell them apart.”
Samel’s family told the Anchorage Daily News that he was a gifted mechanic and auto body repairman, and a “big-hearted outdoorsman who struggled with bipolar disorder.” The paper also reported that he was under court-ordered restrictions from a September arrest.