Troopers arrest man in sexual assault case

Case prompts police to offer self-defense class for women

Alaska State Troopers logo.

Alaska State Troopers logo.

This article contains information about an alleged sexual assault, violence and stalking that may be disturbing to some readers. South Peninsula Haven House offers help for people who are being impacted or have been impacted by sexual assault and domestic violence. For more information, call 907-235-7712 or its 24-hour help line at 907-235-8943.

In a joint investigation by Alaska State Troopers and Homer Police, Homer Police last month arrested a Homer man in a case of an alleged sexual assault and stalking by a stranger. The incident and a previous arrest of a man charged with the murder and kidnapping of Anesha “Duffy” Murnane prompted Homer Police to offer a self-defense class for women on Saturday, June 25 — a class that filled up quickly.

Troopers allege that on May 21, Vance M. Wolford, 31, made sexual contact with a woman without her consent. On the same night, Homer Police alleged that Wolford approached another woman and acted aggressively toward her. Troopers charged Wolford with second-degree sexual assault, a felony, two counts of fourth-degree assault, two counts of second-degree stalking and two counts of first-degree criminal trespass. Wolford had previously lived in Soldotna.

“This one is a sexual assault on a stranger. That’s very unusual for us,” Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said in an interview last Thursday. “In my over 30 years (with Homer Police) I worked a couple of cases like that — two, I think.”

Robl said in Homer most sexual assault cases are domestic violence related, where the perpetrator is known to the victim. The second-most common type of sexual assault is sexual abuse of a minor, he said.

According to a criminal complaint by Alaska State Trooper Marco Fischer, about 10:50 p.m. May 21 a Homer woman reported a man unknown to her tried to rape her in her car parked in the driveway of the woman’s home in the Fritz Creek area. The woman said a man that she later identified as Wolford had approached her in the parking lot of the Grog Shop East on East End Road. The man asked her if she wanted “to hang out,” Fischer wrote, and she told him no, that she had a boyfriend.

This woman and a second alleged victim are identified by their initials in the criminal complaint. The Homer News will identify them as Woman 1 and Woman 2.

Woman 1 told Fischer that after she talked to Wolford, she drove away in her car and then noticed he got in an Astro van and followed her. Woman 1 then turned around in the parking lot of the Fritz Creek General Store, and Wolford followed her even as she took off at a high rate of speed. Woman 1 went to her home and turned her car around in her driveway. Wolford pulled up in his van.

Woman 1 then got out of her car and yelled at him to leave. He started walking toward her, and she went back to her car and got into the driver’s seat. Wolford followed her. She tried to close the door on him, but he got between her and the door, she told Trooper Fischer. Wolford then tried to get on top of her and pull her out of the vehicle. Woman 1 tried to drive off, but Wolford got the car into park. She then tried to call 911. Wolford tried to get the phone away from her, causing it to disconnect. Woman 1 called 911 again, and the phone connected to her Bluetooth and she tossed her phone away to keep it from being disconnected. Trooper dispatch confirmed there had been a 911 disconnect before the second call.

Wolford then got off her, and she used that chance to drive away heading toward town. She said Wolford turned away from town. Woman 1 told troopers she was headed to the Homer Police station but pulled into the parking lot of the Down East Saloon to calm down. Fischer met her in the parking lot. She told Fischer on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being more scared than she had ever been, she placed her fear at a 9. Fischer told Woman 1 that Homer Police had contact with Wolford earlier that evening. He showed her a driver’s license photo of Wolford and she confirmed “100%” that he was the man she said attacked her.

While Fischer interviewed Woman 1, Homer Police reported that they had stopped Wolford and pulled him over at East End Road and Kachemak Drive.

Earlier that evening at about 9:50 p.m., another woman reported to Homer Police that at about 8:50 p.m. a strange man in an Astro van pulled up to her downtown Homer home, asked her her name and acted as if she knew him.

Homer Police Officer T.J. Crowder interviewed Woman 2. She said she felt uncomfortable during the encounter with the man and told the man he needed to leave. Woman 2 said the man told her his name was “Van” or “Vaughan.” She was able to get his license plate. She then went inside and locked her door. Crowder and Sgt. Sean Perry tried to find the van without success.

At 9:45 p.m., Woman 2 told police the man came back, got out of his van and walked up to her house. Woman 2 kept the door locked, recorded the encounter and told him to leave. Woman 2 said the encounter was “creepy” and she felt the man “was aggressively trying to hit on her.” The incident so scared her that when Officer Crowder returned for a second interview, she said she thought the man had come back and she called Homer Police.

When Homer Police stopped Wolford and interviewed him, he said he did not know Woman 1, but claimed that she agreed to park at a Fritz Creek area driveway and have sex with him. Police said they observed a scratch mark on his nose and asked him how he got that. He said he got it while he was sleeping, but it could have come from the incident in the driveway. Trooper Fischer told police to arrest Wolford.

According to online Alaska court records, Wolford has a previous conviction for driving under the influence. According to police in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Aug. 21, 2021, while investigating a suspicious vehicle, Lafayette Police arrested Wolford outside the airport there on a charge of being in possession of a firearm confirmed to be stolen out of Alaska. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Wolford was not booked into the Lafayette Parish Jail.

A warrant was issued in Louisiana for his arrest, and Wolford was arrested on March 12, 2022. In an email, Corporal Matthew Benoit, a Lafayette Police Department public information officer, could not provide any information on how Wolford returned to Alaska. He is now being held at Wildwood Pretrial Facility on a $50,000 appearance bond and a $250,000 performance bond.

Self-defense class offered

Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning will teach the June 25 self-defense class, open to girls and women ages 13 and older. Robl said another class will be offered later in the fall.

“There’s a lot of interest for it,” Robl said. “I’m sure with the resolution of the Duffy (Murnane) case and this recent case, it’s got a lot of people thinking, which is of course unfortunate.”

The class will teach women how to be aware, alert and to think “yes, it can happen to you and it can happen here,” Robl said.

Women will learn evasion techniques and physical maneuvers for escaping based on jujitsu, a Japanese martial art common to police training.

“I think we can teach some useful techniques that can help someone,” Robl said. “Most of these attackers when confronted with any physical resistance at all back down pretty quick, especially if it’s strong physical resistance.”

Browning said the class will talk about situational awareness. A speaker with Point Blank Firearms also will talk about the use of force and what’s allowed. The class will not teach punching or hitting, Browning said.

Jujitsu is based on leverage and safe control, he said, “basically grabbing control and leveraging their body. … Our goal is always safe control, minimizing injury to whoever we’re dealing with and to us.”

In the class, woman also will learn “how to survive a violent attack, how to control an attacker until help gets there or you can get away,” Browning said.

After police put out a notice on Facebook about the class, Browning said his email blew up. The Wolford incident prompted police to offer the class.

“That was the moment that went ‘click, we’ve got to do something here,’” Browning said.

South Peninsula Haven House also offers programs to address sexual assault, and takes a two-pronged approach of prevention and advocacy, Haven House Executive Director Ronnie Leach wrote in an email. Prevention programs that empower youth and adults with knowledge and skills include Girls on the Run, Green Dot active bystander training, and other community engagement strategies.

“Interpersonal violence is a huge issue to tackle, but when enough of us have the skills and commitment to step up for our neighbors, change will happen, and it has already begun,” Leach wrote. “If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to our team!”

For more information, visit the Haven House website at https://havenhousealaska.org or call 907-235-7712.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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