Memories From the Field: A Tribute to the Fallen Alaska State Troopers

To honor the recently fallen troopers Sergeant Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich, the Alaska State Trooper production crew is sharing some fond memories of the two brave men who lost there lives last week in the line of duty. Memorial funds have been set up at Wells Fargo Bank for Sergeant Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich. All proceeds from these accounts will go directly to the families of the fallen. For more information, visit the announcement.

Cameraman Ryan Cahill shares some of his memories in the field with Trooper Rich and Sgt. Johnson:

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Fairbanks, as the -20F degree air hit my lungs, I instantly felt a connection with the last frontier. I walked into the AST Fairbanks post the next day and was greeted with open arms by all of the Troopers. Throughout my two and half years filming the show, some of my best memories in Alaska involved Trooper Rich. I’ll never forget the day he started F-Tap (Field Training) in Fairbanks! Immediately, I knew this guy was going to be our next featured Trooper on the show. As soon as he was allowed to ride with a camera crew, my producer, Sky Finn, and I were in his cruiser as much as he could stand us. He always pulled the Ricky Bobby joke while being interviewed and put up his hands in frame and uttered the phrase “I don’t know what to do with my hands.” It was difficult to keep a straight face while in his presence.

We covered some wild stories together, taking us all over the interior of Alaska.  While riding with Trooper Rich, you always felt safe and knew he had our “6” (back) and vice versa. That’s the thing, when you spend so much time with LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers) you are inducted into the brother/sisterhood that is a huge community of LEO’s. Trooper Rich was like the brother I never had. We always had things to talk about on our downtime whether it was cars, man toys (ATV’s, Snow-machines etc.), or just life. I will always cherish the time I spent with this wonderful, compassionate human being.

I also had the memorable opportunity to work with Sgt. Scott Johnson on a few occasions. He was the prototype for all Sergeants within AST. He was always accommodating to the camera crew; going out of his way to get us great footage, all while keeping us out of harm’s way. One adventure involved a snow-machine (aka snow mobile) that Troopers staged to bait some potential thieves.  In -30F degree temperatures, Sergeant Johnson donned a -40F degree white camouflage snowsuit and took my producer with him as they sat and watched the snow machine. I, on the other hand, was the lucky one who sat in the warm patrol car nearby. Unfortunately for them and for the story, no one took the bait. But what I remember most was Sgt. Johnson’s enthusiasm during the post interview after he had just spent 3 hours in -30F degree weather. That’s just the kind of guy he was: protective, humble and brave.

I salute both of these brave men for putting on the badge every day to protect the citizens of the great state of Alaska! R.I.P. Brothers. Your fellow “honorary” Trooper and favorite Cameraman, Ryan

Producer Charissa Sander remembers Gabe:

Gabe’s job was to protect and serve… and make you laugh til’ you cry.

I’ll never forget my first ride-a-long with Gabe. I made the mistake of casually mentioning I get car sick in the backseat. For the first 20 minutes, I thought he was the worst driver I had ever ridden with. He would accelerate excessively, only to stomp on the breaks. He pulled off into a parking lot where he proceeded to spin doughnuts. By this time, I realized what he was up to. I was sweating and salivating and doing anything to not throw up—begging to be let out, which he did after a long laugh.  Even if you didn’t get a story with him, you got a free comedy show.

Gabe was adored by everyone. In his car, we pulled over to talk to the people of Fairbanks more than with anyone I’ve ever ridden with.  He knew everyone. I once had a camera guy who dubbed him “Mr. Popular Pants.” Gabe was the one who added in the “pants.” He had a way with his words and way with the people he met—even the ones who were less cooperative. He simply said, “You just have to be their friend. You have to listen to them.” He was everyone’s best friend.

Having worked at many other posts, I can tell you that none of them were like Gabe’s. “D” Detachment is special for their bond. My heart breaks when I think of how they are reeling from the loss of their brothers. I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked alongside them and even more fortunate to have known Gabe.

Producer Kelly Lambson reflects on her moments with Sgt. Scott:

My first time filming with Sgt. Scott Johnson turned into a 23-hour adventure for me, but it was just another day at the office for him. He loved his job and did it better than anyone. From the moment I saw him in action, I remember thinking to myself, “Here’s a trooper with amazing skills,” and his most valuable was the way he communicated with people. No matter what the scenario, he instantly put everyone at ease, and could get a drug dealer to confess without raising his voice. I always said if you had to get pulled over by a trooper, you wouldn’t feel bad about getting a ticket from him.

My 23-hour adventure with Scott started with surveillance of an undercover drug-buy in a grocery store parking lot. The photographer and I hid in the back seat of his truck behind a curtain and waited for the buy to go down. Scott picked a strategic parking spot where he could see everything happening. The suspected drug dealer was supposed to park about 50 feet away, but instead pulled into the spot right in front of us. As we hid quietly in the back, Scott immediately backed out so as not to tip him off. It was so exciting to be that close to the action and blend in like we were just another car. Little did I know we were just getting started.

From there, we drove across town to bust a man for growing pot in his house. Next we drove 40 miles out of town where Scott changed into a white camouflage “ghillie” suit and I was like, “This is the coolest dude I’ve ever met!” Wearing that suit, he hiked though the woods and snow to watch yet another drug deal happen. At this point, it was around 2 a.m. and he still had one more drug bust to go. This was a major interdiction, so we weren’t allowed to follow him; but we sat in the truck and listened to the whole thing over his wireless mic. Scott and his team knocked on the door and headed in. Once they got inside, a dog bit one of his guys in the leg and he came out to the truck bleeding. The rest of his team searched the house looking for the “grow room,” but it was nowhere to be found. Scott gave the basement another look and noticed one of the walls was fake and had hinges. We listened as he pulled open the fake wall and revealed a crawl space that led to the “grow room.” He crawled in and discovered a man hiding in the corner who troopers arrested. It was scary and intense – and even after 23 hours, I was too excited to sleep when we got home. All of that was thanks to Scott, who seemed calm and completely in his element the entire time.

He was one of the good guys making a difference. He was a great Trooper and that was because he was a great human. I will never forget my time working with him. He was a good man.

The Alaska State Troopers put their lives on the line every day. The fallen are never forgotten.


  1. Mark Dorman
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    May 8, 2014, 9:28 pm

    I love watching Alaska State Troopers. My nephew is a LEO. I love what these brave souls do. I am stunned beyond belief at the loss of these two wonderful men. I pray for their families. Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice, all law abiding citizens everywhere owe you more than we can ever give in return.

  2. Ashley Sargent
    Fairbanks, AK
    May 8, 2014, 11:46 pm

    Thank you for these wonderful stories guys. They mean a lot .

  3. Jo Rucker
    May 9, 2014, 5:18 am

    We watch Alaska State Troopers often and my husband and I were always talking about these guys and how their job was. We remember Rich and Gabe and we are so very sorry for the tragedy that has hit AST. Our trip to Alaska last summer only made us more convinced at how hard these guys worked in their positions………Our sincere sympathy to the families, friends, and co-workers of Rich and Gabe. I hope the hand of justice is quick and firm!!!!

  4. Ann Cowin
    Leavenworth, Washington
    May 9, 2014, 11:29 am

    My husband was an Alaska State Trooper, retired in 1984, and my heart aches for the families of these courageous and dedicated men. The life they lead cannot be understood unless you have lived it with them.
    God Bless and thankyou.
    The Family of Trp. Ron Cowin

  5. Wanda
    May 9, 2014, 3:12 pm

    My heart is breaking right now as I know yours is that these 2 Wonderful Warm Hearted AST are no longer with us! I rec & watch every show & have since 2010 & feel like I have lost a family member also! M daughter-in-law is a LEO & is also battling Breast Cancer & I just can’t ever imagine losing her & I know my 2 grandkids & her husband couldn’t! I love her so much! Please know my thoughts & prayers are with you all! God Bless You All & Be Safe! RIP Scott & Gabe!

  6. Sue Rohweder
    May 9, 2014, 3:40 pm

    I pray for law enforcement officers everyday. They step up to do a job we, the public, ask them to do yet we do not really understand what we are asking.

    I was on the late night flight from Seattle to Fairbanks early this morning 5/9). There were two (that I know of–maybe more) Texas State Troopers on the flight coming to pay respects. Amazing!

  7. terriallin
    May 9, 2014, 4:33 pm

    My huband /I watch Alaska State Troopers,it is one of our favorite shows,We are saddened by this lost and their families are in our thoughts/prayers

  8. Liz and Jim Harmon
    Lake Mary, Florida
    May 9, 2014, 10:02 pm

    We are a police family and our hearts are broken with the loss of your two officers. We love Alaska and have been there twice and are planning our third trip. We love the TV program because it provides a view into law enforcement and a view of the beautiful scenery of Alaska.

  9. Gail Bentzinger
    May 10, 2014, 1:33 pm

    It was my understanding that they flew to Tanana, a village of about 300, with a warrant to arrest a man who had threatened the village Safety Officer. The man did not go quietly but struggled with the Officers who were then killed by the man’s 19 year old son using an assault rifle. He pointed the gun at the Safety Officer, but did not fire, allowing the man to escape. Later, the Safety Officer and other villagers were able to catch and hold the son, while waiting for back-up to fly in. The older man was also arrested. These AST s, especially the ones who have to deal with people in remote areas, have no back up nearby at all. I’m so sorry for the loss of these brave men.

  10. Marie Lawrence
    Inchelium Washington
    May 11, 2014, 12:52 am

    I watch all the Alaska State Troopers shows every day I have seen some of them several times it is such a sad sad thing to happen there is no back up most of the time. They will always be remembered. So sorry

  11. Gayle Thompson
    Rhode Island
    May 11, 2014, 2:41 pm

    Thank you for composing these insights. As a loyal watcher of AST, we feel a terrible sense of loss. Your excellence in filming does that to/for the viewers. The people become like family to us.
    We certainly grieve with you.

  12. rebecca
    bend oregon
    May 11, 2014, 3:03 pm

    I wish national geographic would do a special episode of the 3 troopers and trooper pilot that they lost within the last 15 months I hope that all the families will be olkay

  13. elizabeth spinnato
    May 11, 2014, 6:10 pm

    Having watched every episode of Alaska State Troopers my heart broke when I heard two amazing, brave, and kind Troopers were killed in the line of duty. I send prayers to their families, and fellow troopers. I am so very sorry for your loss. All of you will be forever in my heart and prayers. God Bless!

  14. msmcdonough,
    oak creek, wis.
    May 12, 2014, 12:47 pm

    I was stunned to hear that two more officers lost their lives, I feel our men and women are incredibly brave, funny, serious, very dedicated and family loving people. I am sorry that they are no longer with us physically, but always in our hearts. I watched the older shows, as well as the new ones. I pray for their families as well as all our officers. God bless to their families as well

  15. Judy Frederick
    Wilmngton, Delaware
    May 12, 2014, 10:34 pm

    I was so shocked when I heard about Trooper Rich and Sgt.Johnson. Even though I have only been watching the shows for the last 4 and 1/2 months, I feel as if I have lost family members. My thoughts and prayers go out to their families and to the troopers. I can see why you are the finest Troopers. God Bless and be safe.

  16. Andrea Rickards
    May 13, 2014, 1:31 am

    I have watched AST since the start of the show. These Men and their Family’s know the dangers involved in these jobs and yet they go out to Serve and Protect everyday. My prayers are with their Family’s and their Brothers in Blue. I have been to Alaska 3 times to visit my Family member who severed Alaska proudly. Prayers for their safety being sent!!

  17. Dennis Eames
    May 13, 2014, 5:19 pm

    Kelly wrote: “If you had to get pulled over by a trooper, you wouldn’t feel bad about getting a ticket from him.”
    I met a man at the family fundraiser for Johnson and Rich who’s only connection with either was that Scott had written him a speeding ticket years ago for doing 100+ in a 35 zone. When someone else at the table stated he was amazed that anyone remembered who wrote them a ticket, the man stated, “Johnson was very nice and I kept that ticket taped to the dash of my Trans Am as a reminder to drive slower.

    • Meg Gleason
      May 14, 2014, 9:08 am

      What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing.

  18. Daniel Michael
    Salisbury, North Carolina
    May 14, 2014, 6:44 pm

    I was a firefighter and EMT here in North Carolina for 18 years until an old back injury put me out and I’m now looking at disability. Needless to say any type of cop show or emergency services type show was and is the norm in my house. I remember watching this show for the first time and I was hooked. I remember watching Sgt Johnson and Trooper Rich on the show numerous times and they never showed less than the best. Rest easy brothers, we’ll take it from here!

  19. Marie Sharkey
    Glenolden, PA.
    May 21, 2014, 10:40 pm

    RIP. Thank you both for your service. Your families are in our prayers. God bless.

  20. patty
    August 9, 2014, 6:10 pm

    So sorry for the loss of troopers Rich & Johnson. I say everyday ever since the loss of the two troopers last year. God please keep all the Alaska State Troopers safe today. I had fun while visiting family in Alaska earlier this year!

  21. Beth
    Nashville Tn
    November 17, 2014, 10:16 pm

    Over the last few weeks I’ve watched every episode of AST and I’m so terribly saddened at the tragic loss of all of these troopers I’ve come to “know” and care about. I’m heartbroken for their badge brothers and of course their families, and I pray for them all. I just told my husband yesterday that I desperately want to go to visit Alaska now, and I haven’t traveled anywhere I couldn’t get to by car in many years, but watching these brave men and women work in what has to be one of the harshest yet most beautiful places on Earth has inspired me to leave my comfort zone and visit there soon. I have to say it has even has crossed my mind (only half jokingly) to speed while driving in Alaska, just so I could meet a trooper and tell them how much I admire them for their bravery and dedication, even though I haven’t had a ticket in 25 years. To meet them in person while in their element would be worth it. I’m truly grief stricken for this terrible loss; now these fallen heros walk the streets of Heaven and I pray fervently for all their families and brethren to have peace and healing come swiftly on angel’s wings, and know their loved ones have touched the hearts and minds of so many of us around the world. Let their sacrifice be a lesson to us all to be kinder to one another, and never take for granted those we love. Go rest high on that mountain troopers, on much higher peaks than even those of Alaska. God bless you all.

  22. William D.
    December 13, 2014, 12:07 pm

    Great comments from Nat Geo crew, AST was a great show and I truly hope it comes back.

  23. Everett & Dorthy W.
    February 5, 2015, 9:56 pm

    My family and I have recorded every show from the first. We really loved the show and would always comment about how dangerous that it is for all lawmen. We are so sorry to hear of the loss of two good lawmen. May God Bless

  24. Joan
    February 12, 2015, 3:52 pm

    I am sick to hear of the loss of two more of Alaska’s brave Troopers, I hold my breath every time they must speed on those highways that are so icy. This has always been one of my favorite shows and the Camera crew does a wonderful job also.. My heart goes out to the families of these brave men.. Please know you all have given us a show you can be so proud of.. God Bless all of you and please be safe…. Please bring our favorite show back again, I don’t know what I would do if it was taken off. Thank you National Geographic for giving us this wonderful show and we are able to share even a little bit of the lives of these great Men. God please bless the Families of all the men.

  25. Kim Osborne Francis
    Gate City, VA
    February 18, 2015, 7:07 pm

    I have watched this show for a long time. These men put their lives on the line every day. They are hero’s. I am so thankful that they have the authority they do to protect themselves as well as the citizens of Alaska. The news of losing 2 Alaskan State Troopers was horrible to hear. God Bless them and the families they left behind.
    My Grandfather was a deputy in Scott County, VA and was killed in the line of duty December 22,1955. I have heard the stories of how hard this was on my mother and her family, how such a wonderful, innocent man could be killed in cold blood. I hope there will be a day when the people who protect us can be safe and be able to do there jobs and realize how much they mean to us. I wasn’t born until 1958 and I feel so heartbroken for the children and grandchildren of the precious, brave men. God Rest Their Souls and God Bless their families.

  26. Josh
    May 27, 2015, 8:57 am

    Look. The man is possible on death row that killed them.

  27. Officer Scott Abbott
    January 6, 2016, 9:36 pm

    Awesome show. I’m a LEO (20yrs) and it is a brotherhood. These men and women, along with the TV show, display every aspect of our jobs. Great job !!
    RIP to those fallen officers and to the families…they are true hero’s. Be safe!!

  28. Robert Nesvick
    El Mirage, AZ
    May 15, 2016, 12:19 pm

    Thank you to the crew of the National Geographic Alaska State Trooper show. Anytime an LEO is lost, it is hard, especially when in your own department. National Geographic did an excellent job showing the life of an Alaska State Trooper.

    Robert Nesvick, Corporal Retired, Alaska State Trooper