Alaska mother of slain ROTC cadet says lack of accountability ‘unconscionable’

Jessica Swan at memorial for her daughter Mackenzie Wilson
Jessica Swan talks about her daughter, Mackenzie Wilson, next to a memorial for her in the family living room in Eagle River on Jan. 6, 2023. Wilson died on during an Air Force ROTC event on June 24, 2022. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

A judge in Idaho has dismissed a manslaughter case involving a 19-year-old Alaska woman who was killed in a Humvee crash last year during an ROTC event.

The judge decided that Idaho’s laws didn’t apply in the case, because of a jurisdictional technicality: The crash happened on a military bombing range that isn’t open to the public.

Military investigators did flag a civilian Air Force employee and a major for possible crimes related to the death early on, but the military hasn’t disclosed if they actually faced any charges or disciplinary action.

Eagle River resident Jessica Swan, the mother of slain Air Force ROTC cadet Mackenzie Wilson, called the lack of accountability “unconscionable.”

“Mackenzie was killed and there’s no consequences,” she said Tuesday, after listening to a court hearing to wrap up the case. “Like, how can that be? How can that be legal? Like, how can that be OK? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Mackenzie Wilson in her Air Force ROTC uniform
Mackenzie Wilson’s Air Force ROTC portrait. Her mom, Jessica Swan, says this was taken at the beginning of her freshman year of college in the fall of 2021.

Wilson was one of 19 college students from around the country in the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps picked to attend a four-day educational program at Idaho’s Mountain Home Air Force Base in June of 2022. ROTC cadets are civilians preparing to become military officers.

The crash happened on the last day, on a gravel road of the Saylor Creek Bombing Range. Military investigators detailed poor oversight and a series of broken rules leading up to the crash. According to their report, range officials gave the untrained cadets unsupervised access to drive old Humvees, which had been procured as bombing targets and weren’t supposed to be driven.

Idaho authorities charged the driver, another cadet from Minnesota named Cole Harcey, with manslaughter.

For months, Harcey’s lawyer and the county prosecutor argued over how to parse the grammatical structure of a reckless driving statute and case law.

Reckless driving is a prerequisite for the manslaughter charge in this case. The judge ultimately decided it didn’t apply on public land that is not open to the public.

In a court hearing last month, Harcey’s attorney, Aaron Hooper, summed up the crash as “an unfortunate accident.”

Swan, the victim’s mother, disagrees. She went public with her anger and frustration earlier this year, because she wanted accountability, and because she feared her daughter’s death would be explained away as just another tragic accident.

Hooper deflected blame toward the military, citing its investigators’ report.

“The hummers were sent to the range to be targets, basically, to have bombs dropped on them,” he said. “They were not kept up to be driven around. They were not properly maintained. They did not have the right kind of tires. Essentially, they were not regulated in a way that almost all military equipment is. They weren’t, essentially, safe to drive.”

Now, Swan said, it feels like the judge’s decision means other people can get away with killing a civilian on military grounds.

“What’s to stop this from happening again?” she said. “This actually leaves cadets less protected,’cause now there’s legal precedent. So it’s done the complete opposite of what I was hoping, to protect other cadets.”

None of the attorneys involved in the case responded to requests for comment. Air Force officials have not said whether its personnel faced disciplinary action after the accident.

Swan said the prosecutor was in touch with her recently and told her he intends to appeal.

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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