At least two people are dead after a collision that temporarily closed the Parks Highway Monday morning near Denali National Park, with park rangers and medics at the scene and Alaska State Troopers en route.
Park spokeswoman Kathleen Kelly confirmed the deaths Monday afternoon, following a head-on crash between Mile 235 and 236 of the highway that left a pickup truck and an SUV burning.
"At this point we have an unknown number of fatalities, but we know we have at least two," Kelly said. "When the National Park Service arrived, both vehicles were fully engulfed."
Kelly said two colleagues who drove the highway Monday before the crash didn't report any unusual road conditions. A final death toll from the crash hasn't been identified, pending further investigation.
"We have not determined if there were any other occupants of the vehicles," Kelly said. "All we know are the two drivers, and they have not been identified."
Eric Smith, the park’s deputy superintendent, said the crash was first reported at about 10:30 a.m. Rangers initially responded to the crash, with employees at the Murie Science and Learning Center at Mile 1.4 of the park road saying smoke from the wreck was visible there.
Smith said the situation looked severe from the outset.
“There was no one out of the vehicles and no one standing there when we were on scene,” Smith said.
Since the highway's initial closure, one lane of the Parks has reopened. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities pilot car is working with a trooper conducting traffic control to usher vehicles through the area.
Kelly said an Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol trooper arrived at about 1:30 p.m. to help coordinate a full investigation of the crash site, at which point it is likely the highway will be closed again. The duration of that closure was unknown Monday.
"It will go on for some time," Kelly said.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
A group of four sank their four-wheelers in Figure Eight Lake in the Point MacKenzie area, Mat-Su Borough authorities say. All four have since been picked up by initial responders.
Dennis Brodigan, Director of the Mat-Su Borough Department of emergency services, told Channel 2 News that dispatchers received a 911 call about the incident at about 12.39 p.m. Monday. It wasn't immediately clear how long the riders were immersed.
"All four fell in the lake, but got out okay," he said. "Two were left behind, near Flat Horn Lake, and two walked ahead to get help."
The two individuals reportedly walked for about six hours before a person on a snowmachine found them. They were unsure of where they were. He then took them to their truck that was parked on Point MacKenzie road.
A bush plane picked reportedly picked up the two individuals that were left behind, and brought them back to their truck.
"When first responders arrived, all four said that they were fine and denied any injuries," Brodigan said.
"All four were mildly hypothermic and have been transported to Wasilla for treatment," said Ken Barkley, Deputy Director of Mat-Su Borough department of emergency services.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Palmer police say a man shot himself at a local residence Monday afternoon, in an incident that appears to be an accidental discharge.
Dennis Brodigan, the Mat-Su Borough’s director of emergency services, said dispatchers were first called about the Blueberry Avenue incident just before 3:25 p.m. An ambulance was headed to the scene, with its arrival delayed pending an all-clear from Palmer Police Department officers.
“We have a male patient, conscious and breathing,” Brodigan said.
PPD Cmdr. Lance Ketterling said the man's injuries don't appear to be life-threatening. Police don't believe the shooting was a suicide attempt or assault.
"It looks purely accidental at this point," Ketterling said. "He's being taken to Mat-Su Regional (Medical Center) right now."
Ketterling says no charges are planned in the incident Monday afternoon.
A woman who moved to Anchorage from American Samoa has been charged with more than two dozen federal offenses after she allegedly used her clients’ tax status to defraud the U.S. government of more than $200,000.
In a Monday statement, U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler’s office says 58-year-old Pepe Anetipa was arrested on Dec. 2 in Washington and arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. Anetipa has been indicted on 28 counts of making false, fraudulent and fictitious claims against the federal government.
The charges stem from the 2011 tax year, in which federal officials say Anetipa moved to Anchorage and obtained a state business license for Triple H Tax and Services.
Federal law allows people who earned all of their annual income in American Samoa to skip filing tax returns, but Anetipa allegedly submitted taxpayers’ information on the wrong forms, receiving at least $202,859 in refunds for claiming they lived in Alaska or Texas. The resultant claims caused the federal government to "repay" tax withholdings which were never made by the taxpayers in question.
“Allegedly, Anetipa used wage information and tax withholding reported to residents of American Samoa on a ‘Form W-2AS American Samoa Wage and Tax Statement’ and transferred the information to a regular ‘Form W-2 Wage and Tax Statement,’” federal officials wrote. “The altered Forms W-2 gave the tax returns the false appearance that the income was earned in the United States rather than America Samoa and that federal tax withholding was paid into the U.S. system.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bradley, who is prosecuting the case, said Monday that the 28 counts in the indictment stemmed from 28 separate tax returns prepared by Anetipa.
“They were all for the 2011 tax year, and she submitted them together to get the money,” Bradley said. “She moved here and was doing it from here because it’d be more successful here.”
While Anetipa held on to much of the money from the scheme, Bradley said some of it was paid as kickbacks to the original taxpayers -- which he called a potentially major percentage of annual income in the relatively poor territory of about 40,000 people.
“Some of the money was shared with taxpayers she knew,” Bradley said. “Sometimes she kept it all and sometimes she kept a part of it.”
While it’s not clear whether any or all of the taxpayers were criminally culpable in the scheme, Bradley said no further charges are immediately planned beyond those against Anetipa.
“I think they were all aware of it, but they might not have been aware it was illegal,” Bradley said. “We’ll hold her accountable for what she did.”
If convicted, Anetipa faces a maximum sentence of five years for each count of the indictment.
Sitka Community Hospital administrators are planning to appear before city Assembly, Tuesday, to formally request money to address a cash flow emergency.
The hospital will request $1.5 million from the city in a 9-month line of credit, administrators said.
Hospital CEO Jeff Comer said that the hospital has "zero days' cash on hand." Comer says the hospital is going to the Assembly because it is getting into a crisis mode.
City administrator Mark Gorman says the city's financial help will not be an outright grant to the hospital.
The losses for the hospital, in operations, were about $2.2 million between July 2013 and November 2014.
Comer says the hospital's financial situation is not affecting the quality of patient care.
He says the city assistance will help the hospital through the next nine months
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s staff are asking Facebook users to double-check any friend requests they receive from the governor, after a fraudulent page for Walker was briefly used to send spam messages.
Walker spokeswoman Katie Marquette says the governor’s office was first alerted Monday morning to the fake page, which has since taken down by Facebook workers.
“It basically looks exactly like the governor’s Facebook page,” Marquette said. “They took photos from the governor’s personal Facebook.”
In a post on Walker’s actual gubernatorial Facebook page, one user said he accepted a friend request from the fake page. He soon began to receive messages falsely claiming that Facebook was giving out $90,000 to users, which he promptly described as a “big scam.”
The governor’s office released Facebook and Twitter messages alerting people to the fake page. A Facebook user jokingly asked in response if “North Korean hackers” were responsible, on the same day that news broke of a major Internet outage in the Communist country.
Marquette said that with the page taken down, no further state action on the incident is planned -- but people should still keep an eye out in case those responsible try the same trick twice.
“If you get a friend request from somebody you’re already active friends with, don’t accept it,” Marquette said.
While Facebook was quick to act and take the page down once it was informed, staffers had a hard time figuring out who to reach at the social-media firm Monday morning.
“That took the longest, just finding the information on Facebook,” Marquette said. “There’s nobody to call at Facebook.”
A Fairbanks man was arrested last week for selling hundreds of pounds of stolen copper for a pittance of its actual worth.
Curtis James Wrightsman II, 28, was charged, Dec. 17, with selling the stolen metal tubes and fittings. Prosecutors say Wrightsman sold the copper, valued between $7,000 and $10,000, as scrap for $708.
Dayn Cooper, owner of a building maintenance company, reported the 454-pound theft in October, when he noticed he was missing copper tubes and fittings that had been packed in plastic bags.
Cooper called scrap metal companies and one confirmed that they bought the metals from a man who had packed all of it in the trunk of a car.
Police linked the car's license plate to a friend of Wrightsman.
Wrightsman is currently being held at Fairbanks Correctional Center. He is being charged with Burglary 2 which is a Class C felony.
Fairbanks police are investigating a series of armed robberies which took place early Sunday, with two suspects still at large and a Fort Wainwright soldier arrested in connection with at least two incidents.
Amber Courtney, a spokeswoman for Fairbanks Mayor John Eberhart, said in a statement late Sunday that 23-year-old Keith A. Downing was taken into custody after the incidents, which included "several reports of pedestrians being robbed by two suspects wielding a shotgun and a pistol."
Police learned of the first robbery in a call at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday. Two male pedestrians near the Show Girls Strip Club on Remak Drive told officers they had been robbed by the occupants of a vehicle; police later identified the car as a gray Volkswagen Jetta, license plate ESD903.
“The victims stated two males had pulled up in a vehicle, driven by a third suspect, threatened them with firearms, and stolen items to include a wallet and cellphone,” Courtney wrote.
Upon further investigation, Downing was arrested in both the initially reported robbery and a second incident, which happened within an hour of the Remak Drive call.
“It is suspected that Downing is possibly responsible for a third robbery during the same timeframe,” Courtney wrote.
Courtney said Monday that police are still seeking the other two occupants of the car seen on Remak Drive.
“The second and the third people involved, we do not have them yet,” Courtney said. “The description of the second armed person was also a black male.”
U.S. Army Alaska spokesman John Pennell said Monday that Downing is a private, or PV2, with Fort Wainwright’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Pennell said the Army has no current involvement in the case, but stands ready to help FPD in its investigation.
“We have no indication that there are any other soldiers involved,” Pennell said. “Of course, the Army will cooperate and assist in any way that we can.”
Downing was charged with two counts of first-degree robbery, plus one count each of third-degree and fourth-degree theft. An Alaska inmate database showed him in custody at Fairbanks Correctional Center Monday morning.
Anyone with information on the robberies or the suspects is asked to call FPD Detectives Adams or Malloy at 907-450-6478 or 907-450-6557.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
Christmas has come early for Anchorage School District teachers. For the first time in several years, district officials say no pink slips will be handed out.
In this story:
More than 3,000 ASD teachers will avoid being laid off in 2015.
ASD's first-quarter analysis has identified a way to offset next year's budget deficit.
District officials say providing stability next year will allow the district to attract and retain high-quality educators.
As a new light sculpture brightens Anchorage evenings during the holidays at Elderberry Park on the west end of Downtown Anchorage, here's half a dozen illuminating pointers from its makers about the display:
Artists used old Christmas decorations from the pipeline days to create the display.
The exhibit includes an original composition that composer Christopher Jette created using a variety of methods including rubbing grass stalks together at 3 a.m. in the park.
The group reached it's goal of more than $10,000 through crowdfunding source Indigogo. It says the money will go to supplies and helping to compensate artists for their time.
You control the lights and sound. When observers walk along the path through the park, sensors can trigger sound and light reactions.
Part of the display takes team effort. Artist Scott Pugh says he wanted people to get a chance to know each other. That's why one display requires five cyclists to light a display.
Though the light display is picking up speed right now, it's not in honor of the holidays or solstice. The creators say it's to honor Anchorage's centennial.
Anchorage police are urging commuters to use caution Monday morning, due to “extremely slippery road conditions” which have caused several crashes inbound on the Glenn Highway.
An APD statement on the wrecks says they occurred near the Glenn’s exits at Turpin Street and Muldoon Road.
A dispatcher with the department said that calls began to pick up at about 6 a.m., as drivers took to local roads for their morning commute. Since midnight Monday, police have responded to six vehicles in distress, three non-injury accidents and one accident with minor injuries.
No road closures have been reported by APD.
A dream of venturing through Alaskan wilderness carried Jaimee Kinzer here six years ago, when the Idaho native found work as a dog handler for longtime Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher DeeDee Jonrowe.
During the fall after that, Justin High made his way up from Michigan and also became a handler at Jonrowe's kennel, tucked away in dense forest with endless postcard scenes of snow-capped spruce, with an echoing sound of dogs yipping from any of the many neighborhood kennels.
Both newcomers wholeheartedly embraced the Willow and mushing communities, the Iditarod veteran said, and they quickly became more like Jonrowe's own kids than employees.
Eventually, though not for long, Jonrowe and her husband, Mike, started playing wingman for Justin.
"We were looking for a girlfriend for Justin," said Jonrowe, "and we heard through the grapevine that Jaimee would like it if we stopped that."
A few years later, in 2012, Jaimee and Justin became the Highs during an August ceremony officiated by Jonrowe at four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennel.
That year was also Jaimee's first attempt at the Iditarod, as she ran some of her boss's younger dogs and finished the race in 46th place.
"It all happened that year, 2012," Justin said.
"It was a beautiful ceremony, she was beautiful," Jonrowe remembers.
The newlyweds spent all the time they could spare and all the money they could come up with to break ground on a Willow cabin around the corner from their training grounds.
Jaimee started sewing dog gear for mushers with an industrial sewing machine she saved up for, he fished commercially during the summer and worked at Deshka Landing.
"Every penny they have made, they have built in their house," Jonrowe said.
Justin installs a roof on the cabin. (Courtesy Justin High)
This year's brown and snowless winter may draw even more ire here, in mushing country, than it has elsewhere in Alaska. "It's been awful," said Justin, "Just 12 inches."
Except for the weather, though, life for the Highs was moving along nicely as Jaimee trained for a second attempt at the Iditarod, this time with 16 of Jonrowe's dogs and eight of her own.
A plentiful potato crop in the Valley and a summer and fall spent canning vegetables hard to grow in winter, like tomatoes, left them with a full kitchen. Overall, they had just enough to get by.
That was true until Dec. 19, just another Friday, until it wasn't.
Jaime and Justin High embrace as they watch the home they built together burn to the ground. (Courtesy Liz Millman)
Jaimee was running the dogs to the post office when she got the call just before noon. Justin was at work.
By the time they arrived, all they could manage to save was the two dogs they kept inside the house, one recovering from a leg surgery and the other 17 years old.
The area is serviced by a volunteer fire department with firefighters dispersed over a huge area. While Justin didn't blame crews for the delay necessary to respond, by the time they scrambled and got to the property an hour later the damage was already done.
Everyone was OK, so were the dogs and three of six chickens, but everything was lost.
Losing the house is a particularly tough blow since it was uninsured, Justin said, but what hurts more is the loss of the irreplaceable: the wedding dress, an heirloom mink coat, the wedding ring left on the table while Jaimee ran the dogs.
"You can't inherit that again," Jonrowe said. "His grandfather was extremely special to Justin."
"My grandfather died about this time last year," Justin said. "The only thing I wanted from him was his old hunting rifle. That’s what I’ve got left of that."
"Probably can't rebuild it," Justin said as he held his grandfather's rifle, just before carrying the remnant to his truck. (KTUU / Austin Baird)
"It hurt when I came back over here," Justin said. "There's not much to salvage." (KTUU / Austin Baird)
Justin surveyed the property a day after the blaze, the first time he saw the damage in daylight. While smoke was still rising from ice-caked remnants of family photos and Christmas presents, Justin kept a sense of humor.
"It hurt when I came back over here this morning," he said. "But you try to smile, you try to joke."
A moment later he pointed to a pile of potatoes, varying shades of black and gray: "Pre-baked," he said.
Justin holds a charred potato that froze overnight as temperatures dipped to minus five. (KTUU / Austin Baird)
At the time of the fire, Jaimee had just finished an order for dog sweaters. "Won't make it out for Iditarod this year," Justin said. (KTUU / Austin Baird
The outpouring of support from friends and strangers makes it easier to stay positive, he said. A crowdfunding effort raised more than $15,000 before the weekend was over, and people offered all other sorts of help from new clothes to food to a helping hand.
"If I had 25 bodies that needed a bed, there would still be 25 more beds ready and waiting for me," Justin said. "It's just remarkable."
Jonrowe said the response is reminiscent of what happened after a 1996 crash on an ice-slicked Nenana River Bridge that killed her grandmother and left her and Mike severely injured.
"This is the kind of people we need to help," Jonrowe said, "the people who are working hard and already helping themselves, then a tragedy happens. I'm proud of Alaska."
While the immediate future remains uncertain, Jonrowe said she hopes to see Jaimee out on the trail in 2015.
Justin said he will rebuild the home next summer -- "Bigger and better, a lot more fireproofing," he said -- and the dogs and charred chickens, meantime, will recover at Jonrowe's kennel.
"I try to keep on remembering what we have," he said. "We have our dogs. We have each other. We have our friends and family."
DeeDee Jonrowe holds one of two dogs that was inside the Highs' home when the fire started. (KTUU / Austin Baird)
An Alabama man Alaska State Troopers say tried to burglarize a Ketchikan home got nothing more than an arrest for his troubles early Sunday, after the homeowner’s arrival prompted an armed standoff with troopers.
According to an AST dispatch, 32-year-old Richard Wilson was taken into custody at a home near Mile 6 of the South Tongass Highway. Troopers were informed of an assault and burglary in progress there at about 4:45 a.m., after Wilson had allegedly broken into the unoccupied home.
“While Wilson was inside the residence the homeowner returned and was met by Wilson who had armed himself with a firearm,” troopers wrote. “While in possession of the firearm Wilson ordered the homeowner out of the residence and then proceeded to barricaded himself inside.”
Troopers surrounded the home, pending the delivery of an arrest warrant for Wilson. In the meantime, responders were able to persuade Wilson to surrender.
“An Alaska State Trooper crisis negotiator was on scene and opened a line of communication which led to Wilson exiting the residence and being taken into custody,” troopers wrote.
Wilson was charged with three felonies, including two counts of first-degree burglary and one count of third-degree assault. He was held at the Ketchikan Correctional Center on $10,000 bail, with an approved third-party custodian required for release.
Alaska State Troopers credit reports by concerned citizens with leading to the arrest of a Houston man for DUI at speeds of over 100 mph on the Glenn Highway late Friday evening.
In an AST dispatch, troopers say 30-year-old Robert Haney’s red 2010 Jeep Commander, headed north on the Glenn near Mirror Lake, was called in under the Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately program just before 10 p.m. Friday.
“AST received multiple citizen complaints on the vehicle's driving behavior,” troopers wrote. “(Troopers) located the vehicle driving north on the Glenn Highway near Mile 33 exceeding 100 mph and swerving into both lanes attempting to pass other vehicles. The vehicle was stopped on the Parks Highway near Trunk Road.”
Troopers say Haney, who was heading home from a Christmas party in Anchorage, wouldn’t give a breath sample for alcohol testing and had a small amount of marijuana on him.
Haney was ultimately charged with DUI, reckless driving, refusal to submit to a breath test and sixth-degree misconduct involving controlled substances. He was held at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility on $1,000 bail.
A fire in a Fairbanks clothing store early Sunday left behind extensive water and smoke damage -- as well as an open door for looters.
Joe Prax, owner of the Prospector Store, told Channel 2 that a fire started due to a fault with the boiler. The furnace room and the room above it caught on fire, but the sprinklers put it out; local fire crews then arrived and mopped up the scene.
After the fire was out, Prax said employees and family members were helping to clean up the mess and had propped the back door open. Three people were spotted by the owner's brother as they attempted to burglarize the store by sneaking in the back door.
The events that ensued were worthy of a "Cops" episode.
Fairbanks Police Department Lt. Dan Welbourne was driving by, responding to an unrelated noise complaint, when he saw what looked like people fighting in The Prospector's premises. One of them, 33-year-old Rebecca Graves, was about to lead him on a chase.
"When I stopped to break it up, (Graves) ran out of the building and ran up Cushman Street," Welbourne said Sunday afternoon. "I chased her down the street and tried using a Taser, but because of the circumstances it didn't work."
Graves made her way onto private property by jumping over a fence -- but Welbourne was able to jump over the fence right after her, handcuffing her in the yard.
When Welbourne brought Graves back to The Prospector, other officers had found 30-year-old Teaira VanSleet in the building and arrested her.
A third person was able to escape the initial police search, but after further investigation officers arrested Dametrey Rice, 20. Rice also had an outstanding warrant.
Graves, VanSleet and Rice were each charged with second-degree burglary. In addition, Graves faces one count and Rice faces two counts of violating conditions of release. All three are being held at the Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Prax says the store will remain closed for the next two days due to damages. No merchandise was taken.
The Seward Highway has reopened after a head-on collision which injured two people and one dog Sunday afternoon in the Portage area, according to Alaska State Troopers.
AST dispatchers in Soldotna said minor injuries were initially reported in the two-vehicle collision, which troopers were first notified of as a crash with extrication required at about 2:40 p.m.
AST spokesman Tim DeSpain said the crash took place near Mile 85 of the highway, with no serious injuries but at least one person taken to a hospital in the region.
A Channel 2 photographer at the scene said an injured woman had chosen to remain with a seriously injured dog. An Anchorage Animal Care and Control vehicle arrived to take charge of treatment for the animal.
Trooper Dave Chaffin, one of the troopers at the scene, said both of the vehicles in the crash were SUVs.
"The Jeep Grand Cherokee lost control on the snow pack and icy road, spun sideways, and preliminary indicates indicates that they were T-boned by a southbound GMC Yukon," Chaffin said.
According to Chaffin, weather was a factor in the collision.
"We've had other significant snowfalls earlier in the season, but this is the first one that really affected the roads significantly," Chaffin said. "This is probably our big freeze, where we are going to have our road snow-packed and icy for the rest of the season."
While the crash was handed by troopers, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Anita Shell said APD used electronic signs on the highway were used to display warnings of the collision.
DeSpain said one lane of the Seward was open by 4:30 p.m. and dispatchers saying troopers had cleared the scene by 5:20 p.m.
Editor's note: An initial version of this story placing the collision near the Seward Highway's junction with the Sterling Highway, based on a count of highway miles from Anchorage to Seward rather than vice versa, has been corrected.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
Jaimee and Justin High, Willow mushers, have been overwhelmed by support after a fire destroyed their home.
A male victim was shot and injured along 3rd Avenue Downtown early Sunday morning, with Anchorage police in the initial stages of an investigation.
APD spokeswoman Anita Shell said police were called just before 2:15 a.m. to the shooting, outside the PlayHouse Bar at 420 W. 3rd Ave.
“It was near closing time, so it looks like there were several people gathered outside,” Shell said. “One shot rang out and one person was struck.”
The victim was taken to a local hospital with what Shell described as a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to the torso. She didn’t have further information on the victim’s condition Sunday.
Police are still seeking the suspect, and don't have a motive for the shooting. Anyone with information on the incident should call APD at 786-8900.
Editor's note: An initial version of this story that inaccurately gave the shooting's location as near Cyrano's Off Center Playhouse at 413 D St. has been corrected.
Channel 2’s Lacie Grosvold contributed information to this story.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
At least two vehicles recently sank into the Chena River on a section long used as an ice-covered shortcut between Airport Way and Chena Small Tracts Road.
Bob Weaver, the owner of Ron's Towing, said a rented SUV driven by an out-of-state motorist sank Dec. 15 after making a left turn onto the river from Pike's Waterfront Lodge. No one was hurt.
The tow company was being followed by a camera crew, but Weaver told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner the incident was not staged.
Alaska State Troopers helped rescue the driver of another vehicle on Tuesday. Sgt. Brian Wassmann said two troopers found a 20-year-old woman standing on the roof of the vehicle helped her to shore. A dog trapped in the vehicle died.
Tammy Lynn Brantley, 30, of Soldotna, was arrested around 9.02 p.m. Saturday, by Alaska State Troopers, for driving while intoxicated with 3 young children in the car.
Troopers with the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol, stopped Brantley near milepost 8 of Kenai Spur Highway, according to a trooper dispatch.
"Investigation revealed she was driving the van, a 1994 Mercury, while impaired and under the influence of alcohol", troopers wrote.
Court records show that Brantley pleaded guilty to a DUI in 2013.
Brantley has been charged with a DUI, driving with a revoked license, driving in violation of license limitations, violation of conditions of release and child endangerment.
She was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility and is being held with no bail pending arraignment.