Story last updated at 6:47 p.m. Thursday, December 26, 2002

Basketball team survives scare on Sterling Highway
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

Members of the Homer High School boys basketball team were traveling back to the Kenai Peninsula from an Anchorage tournament on Sunday when the team van was sideswiped by a pickup truck on a curve near in Cooper Landing.

"When you're feeling down after a 30-point throttling, and you go through an accident like that, you realize there's nothing to feel too bad about on the basketball court."<.i>

<> Billy Day, Homer High boys basketball coach

Nobody was injured in the accident, and the Kenai Peninsula School District van remained drivable.

Head coach Billy Day was driving, and roughly half a dozen of his players were also riding in the van when a pickup heading north near Mile 50 on the Sterling Highway crossed into the southbound lane. Day, who said he was driving about 25-30 mph, maneuvered alongside the highway's guardrail and the truck narrowly missed hitting the van head on.

The impact of the collision knocked the van into the guardrail, but it stayed upright and on the road.

The entire trip down from Anchorage had been an adventure to that point. The driving conditions were "atrocious," Day said, with blizzard conditions in the passes and snow or sleet everywhere else.

"There was about 4 inches of slush on pretty slippery pavement (in Cooper Landing)," Day said. "At that point, we'd gone through just about everything."

What made the driving conditions even scarier was all the traffic on the roads, Day said.

At one point, Day said, he considered turning back and returning to Anchorage, but then he figured that enduring the whiteout conditions of Turnagain Pass would not be worth it.

"I just figured there's got to be a better way," said Day, whose team had suffered three straight defeats in the season-opening tournament.

After the accident, both parties called the Alaska State Troopers, who Day said responded to the scene within five minutes, followed moments later by an ambulance.

The trooper report said the driver of the pickup, Mark Estes of Anchorage, drifted into the southbound lane when he encountered a ridge of heavy slush.

After the impact of the collision, Day still had to fight to keep the van under control until he could find a safe place to pull off the highway. When he finally brought the van to a stop at a pullout near Cooper Creek, Day said there was complete silence in the back of the van.

"It really put things into perspective," Day said. "When you're feeling down after a 30-point throttling, and you go through an accident like that, you realize that there's nothing to feel too bad about on the basketball court."

According to Greg Wilkinson, information officer for Alaska State Troopers, no charges have been filed, but the case is still open.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer news.com.

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