Ian Lord, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — During a midweek, evening commute along St. Albans’ busiest street, an apparent road rage incident and confrontation escalated into the fatal shooting of a Highgate woman on Wednesday.
St. Albans City Police responded to North Main Street around 5:40 p.m. after witnesses, including an off-duty Vermont State Police trooper, saw an altercation between two motorists which led to the shooting of Anna Alger, 31, of Highgate.
In a statement, police Wednesday night said Alger died of her wounds after being transported to Northwestern Medical Center.
The suspect, Matthew Webster, 30, of Swanton, was located and apprehended a short distance away. He was charged with reckless endangerment and second-degree murder.
Alger leaves behind a daughter who currently attends Highgate Elementary School. Principal Marcel Choquette said this morning that the school is working on a student and staff crisis plan.
A 2000 graduate of Missisquoi Valley Union High school, Alger was employed at Peerless Clothing Co. in St. Albans, according to her Facebook page.
Webster was scheduled to be arraigned at 11 a.m. today in Franklin County Court.
The subsequent investigation found that Alger and Webster didn’t know each other.
According to the police statement, Webster ran a red light at North Main and Lower Newton streets, almost hitting Alger, who was turning left off Lower Newton. Alger followed Webster’s vehicle and the two shared an exchange that escalated with both operators pulling over on North Main Street across from the Fitness Zone gym.
Alger confronted Webster outside their vehicles, when police say Webster pulled out a handgun and shot Alger multiple times.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said Caroline Manahan, who was working out at the Fitness Zone across the street when she witnessed the shooting. She said the off-duty VSP trooper was in the gym during the incident, and he immediately ran out to respond to the scene after shots were fired.
Witness Jill Marie Longley posted on the Messenger Facebook page that she saw Alger and Webster arguing. Longley said she was driving by the two cars pulled over and she heard Alger “say something along the lines of, ‘No, don’t’” when Webster approached her before firing.
Facebook user Kyle Gagne shot a nearly four-minute video of the arrest, with Webster on the ground being detained by police officers. Webster was heard saying sorry several times as the officers led him to a police cruiser.
Several pedestrians, gym members and kids were outside at the time of the shooting, said Manahan. When she heard the shots, Manahan, a student teacher, said she immediately thought about the children’s safety.
“That was my main concern,” she said. The children immediately ran inside after the shots were heard, she added.
After hearing the shots, Manahan said she saw the suspect quietly walking away from the scene with the gun still in his hand.
Manahan said she was impressed with the quick response from the many law enforcement officers. She said within one or two minutes, about 10 to 15 police vehicles were on the scene.
St. Albans City Police Chief Gary Taylor said Webster’s wife was following him at the time of the incident. Taylor said Webster and his wife were involved in a domestic dispute right before he ran the red light and confronted Alger.
After police arrested Webster, they seized two loaded firearms, including the handgun used in the shooting. Taylor said this morning officials are searching Webster’s vehicle for a third weapon.
According to Taylor, having loaded handguns in a vehicle isn’t against the law in Vermont. He said there is a Fish & Wildlife law that prohibits long-barreled guns from having a loaded chamber in a moving vehicle.
The area of North Main Street where the incident occurred was blocked off Wednesday night, and into this morning.
Multiple agencies were on the scene Wednesday, including the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and the Vermont State Police, along with the City Police. Investigators were also seen communicating with Deputy State’s Attorney John Lavoie.
While he said Webster is at fault and will be held responsible for his actions, Taylor said drivers should avoid confrontations with fellow motorists. He said it’s impossible to tell what one might encounter when leaving a vehicle to engage in a verbal altercation.
“I would urge drivers not to engage in that kind of activity,” Taylor said.
Webster was cited in September 2012 for negligent operation after he crashed his car into another vehicle at the intersection of Woods Hill Road and Route 7 in Swanton. According to the Vermont State Police press release, Webster was reported to be driving recklessly prior to the crash, passing two other vehicles before crashing into a third he attempted to overtake.
This is one of the first shooting incidents in St. Albans in about five years, Taylor said. He said he recalled a few incidents on Federal Street around 2008 when non-fatal shots were fired.