ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – A memorial at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Cordova Street is strewn with mementos of the sport Amelia Nowak and her boyfriend Derek Duerr loved to play. Pictures of Nowak in her South Anchorage High School basketball uniform were left at the scene of the crash that killed them, and balls with messages of love and remembrance scribbled on them.
The couple died near the intersection early Sunday morning in a fiery crash that police say was caused by 23-year-old Matthew Davis. According to police, Davis was responsible for a string of crashes, including the one that killed the young couple.
Davis told investigators he had 12 to15 drinks Saturday night, and had no memory of getting behind the wheel.
On Monday, people came to the memorial to pay their respects, including Emma Koldeway. Koldeway said she didn’t know Nowak well, but had graduated with her last year from South High School. Koldeway said it broke her heart to hear how the couple died, especially if it came at the hands of a drunk driver.
“It’s so tragic, and I know the whole community is hurting because of this,” Koldeway said. “Not everyone may have been friends with them, but we are all hurting and it is affecting all of us.”
Larry Wilson was Nowak’s varsity basketball coach at South, where she played all four years.
“We were already going to miss her as a player, and now (we are) just going to miss her,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that he was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that both she and Duerr were gone.
Wilson also coached Duerr when Duerr was a freshman at East High School, where he played basketball for the boy’s C team.
“He had a really good sense of humor, and he was always cracking jokes,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that he was impressed Duerr would go on to play college ball.
As for Nowak, Wilson described her as kind and caring, but she could also be fierce on the court.
“I remember an assistant coach that we had here a couple of years ago,” Wilson said. “She wasn’t that impressed at first, but after our first game she was like, ‘I love that kid,’ and I was like ‘I told you’ because she just wasn’t afraid of anything.”
Wilson said Nowak was also a fighter off the court. Wilson overcame struggles with dyslexia to graduate with honors and an academic scholarship to college.
He called their deaths a double tragedy, that cut short two lives with promising futures.
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