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- Jan. 10, 1997 -

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Alaska State Troopers Patch
Resided: AK, USA
Born: May. 31, 1954  
Fallen: Jan. 10, 1997
Race/Sex: Caucasian Male / 42 yrs. of age
Dept: Alaska State Highway Patrol
Glennallen, AK   USA
Dept. Type: State/Police
Hero's Rank: Trooper
Sworn Date: 4/1981
FBI Class: Homicide - Other
On The Job: 16 years
Bio: Bruce Alan Heck, 42, was born on May 31, 1954, in Boise, ID, to Jack and Evelyn Heck. He was the youngest of three boys (Michael, Randy and Bruce). His father was a police officer in Boise, ID, retiring in 1983 at the rank of chief deputy sheriff. Bruce's early years were spent in Boise, ID, but his parents divorced when he was 8 years old and he was then raised by his mother and step-father, John Messenger, who moved their family to Juneau, AK. John and Evelyn Messenger had two children (Candie and Scott) born in AK.

Bruce graduated from Douglas H.S. in Juneau in 1972 where he had been active in the "student trooper" program. After H.S. Bruce served as a volunteer with the Juneau Fire Dept. He decided at an early age that he wanted to be a police officer like his father and on Jan. 5, 1976 (at age 21), he started working with the Dept. of Public Safety in Juneau as a building security guard for the State of AK.

On Jan. 12, 1981, Heck, 26, was hired as an AK state trooper and graduated from the academy at Sitka in April of that same year. He was first assigned (on April 14, 1981) to Juneau but was transferred to Ketchikan (on Sept. 1, 1982) and served there until Feb. of 1988. He later served in Palmer (from Feb. 22, 1988, to Oct. of 1990) and Glennallen (for 7 years--from Oct. 14, 1990, until his death).

Trooper Heck's wife, Laurie, was the trooper dispatcher on duty in Glennallen when the news that Heck was "down" came over the police radio. She handled the call until a relief dispatcher could relieve her.

Survived by:
Laurie Daniel Heck - Wife

his three children, Brian Heck, 19, of the U.S. Army in Germany; Alisha Heck, 17, of Juneau, AK; and Christopher Heck, 12, of Spokane, WA; by his father and step-mother, Jack and Rae Heck, of Eagle, ID, and his mother and step-father, Evelyn and John Messenger, of Sun City, AZ; and by two brothers, Michael Heck of Virginia Beach, VA (a retired Navy veteran), and Randy Heck of Boise, ID; by his half-sisters, Candie Dartt of Bellingham, WA, Janice Harkleroad of NM, and Carol Thomas of Twin Falls, ID; and his half-brothers, Scott Messinger of St. Louis, MO, and John Messenger of Anchorage, AK.

Fatal Incident Summary
Offender: John Kevin Phillips
Location: AK   USA   Fri. Jan. 10, 1997
Summary: AK State Trooper Bruce Heck, 42, was smothered or strangled during a "hand-to-hand fight" with a fugitive he chased into the woods after a stolen car chase on Jan. 10, 1997. He became the 9th trooper killed since the agency was created in 1941. His assailant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The events that led to the death of Heck began on Thursday, Jan. 9, 1997, when John Kevin Phillips, 39, was released from the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward after completing a 5-year sentence for escaping from an AK jail.

Phillips, angry over his belief that he had been "ripped off" by a fellow inmate in prison, went to Anchorage the day after his release (Friday) and robbed a store, "5th Avenue Furs," owned by the inmate's father. He held a "killing knife used by Marines" to the stomach of the storeowner's daughter, Liliana C. Hernandez, who was seven months pregnant, and threatened to "slice her open" if he was not given money. He "cut her hand to the bone" to demonstrate that he was "serious." Phillips also "beat the father's head on the floor and threatened to push the knife through the man's skull." He then took $300 and fled.

Around 6:00PM, Phillips called for a taxi to pick him up at the Hub Bar in downtown Anchorage. He was first taken to the Comfort Inn at Ship Creek where he retrieved a bag from inside. He then asked to go to Palmer and the driver, Zeghum Awan, agreed to take him once he verified that Phillips had the $60 cab fare for the trip.

When the taxi arrived in Palmer, the taxi driver got out of his vehicle to check a house address, and Phillips, who had been riding in the front seat, "slid over to the driver's seat and sped off." The driver reported the theft of his taxi and it was reported seen an hour later 57 miles north of Palmer. At 9:31PM Trooper Heck spotted the stolen taxi at Mile 153 heading toward Glennallen. Heck, who had been notified to be on the lookout for the stolen taxi, "signaled the driver to stop and followed it" when it did not stop as directed. He radioed for assistance. At 9:35PM the taxi "left the road and made a flipped landing in a ditch at Mile 158," two miles from the Lake Louise cut-off (Mile 160).

The trooper then parked his car next to the overturned taxi and "continued the chase on foot through the rural, snow-covered, wooded area." It was 10 degrees below zero. Signs later found indicate Heck and Phillips engaged in a "hand-to-hand fight" in the snow about 150 yards from the road. Heck was able to get one handcuff on Phillips before he was (apparently) overpowered, rendered unconscious and according to a later autopsy, smothered andor strangled.

When a second trooper, Don Pierce, arrived at 9:56PM, he found the overturned cab and Heck's patrol car with its "lights flashing and siren whining." A motorist who had stopped to help told Pierce that he saw the trooper chase a person into the woods. Pierce then ran into the woods to check on Trooper Heck. He followed a "trail of footprints mashed into snow 3 feet deep" and, 150 yards into the woods, found Heck dead on the ground with his face covered by a "pyramid" of packed snow.

Realizing "that he was alone in the woods with Heck's killer, he dropped to his knees, shut off his flashlight and radio and waited." Pierce then "heard, saw, sensed or knew someone was off to the left" and caught glimpses of the person moving toward his idling patrol car. Fearing that the assailant would reach the patrol car, grab the "mounted shotgun" in the idling cruiser, take a hostage, andor drive off, he "raced" toward the highway. The "stranger" and Pierce ran a "parallel path" and when Pierce got closer to the man he shouted for him to raise his hands or he would kill him. As Phillips raised his arms, "Heck's handcuffs dangled from his wrist."

Trooper Heck received a posthumous Commendation for Bravery from the AK Dept. of Public Safety. Trooper Don Pierce received a Commendation for Valor for his capture of Heck's killer. However, the experience caused Pierce, a 22-year veteran, to retire. He had been a close friend of Heck's. When asked by Prosecutor Branchflower at the later trial if he were "tempted to kill him right then and there" (when he arrested Phillips at gunpoint), Pierce replied, "Oh, yeah."

The assailant, Kevin Phillips, was first taken to Glennallen where he was treated for head injuries inflicted during the incident. He was then taken to Anchorage for further treatment and detention.

Disposition: On July 15, Judge Larry Card sentenced Phillips to life in prison.

Source: Book       Excerpted in part or in whole from Dr. Wilbanks book-


By Dr. Wm. Wilbanks FL International University

To be published by Turner Publications in early 1999

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