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Alaskans Unharmed in Deadly Mount Everest Avalanche


Friday is being called the "deadliest day" ever on the world's highest peak. Tragedy swept down Mount Everest in its early hours, as an avalanche claimed the lives of at least 12 Sherpa guides.

Two Alaskans were on Mount Everest when it happened. Joyce Mayer says her husband, Douglas Franklin, was trekking Everest for the first time when he heard the snow slide.

"He was on a slope with a view of Everest by base camp when the avalanche happened," Mayer said.

Mayer says her husband, who does computer work for Cycle 360, always wanted to see Mount Everest.

"They were not at an angle where they could see the avalanche, but he definitely heard it," Mayer said. "He heard two really loud cracks, and when they got a view of the mountainside there was a really big scar in it."

Franklin's wife says rugged activity at home helped prepare him for his visit to Everest.

"He's a very active guy, he hikes and climbs all over the Chugach," Mayer said.

According to Mayer, Franklin hiked back to base camp where crews were already moving bodies off the mountain. He was descending as of Saturday morning.

Ty Hardt, the director of communications director for the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., climbed the mountain last year. He says it's not uncommon for avalanches to happen in what's known as the "popcorn field," where Friday's slide happened.

"You have a massive problem with avalanches along the western shoulder," Hardt said.

Hardt says the journey through the area is challenging.

"It's a section on the mountain that you don't spend a lot of time on, you don't take a lot of rest," Hardt said. "It's an area where it's OK to move as fast as you possibly can, because -- again -- the ice that you're moving on is continually moving."

Hardt says he's sure Friday's disaster will affect everyone on the mountain, whether or not they were at the scene of the avalanche.

"I'm sure right now the attitude at base camp is very somber," Hardt said.

Paula Leonard, a Sitka woman who was also on the mountain at the time the avalanche happened, posted on her Facebook page to reassure people back home.

"The avalanche was in the ice fall this morning. My team is good," Leonard wrote. "Thanks for all of the support."

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Chihuahua Abduction Indicative of Hungry Owls


Local bird rescue officials say Great Horned Owls are having a difficult time finding food this spring. That's the theory behind a recent attempted abduction of a Chihuahua dog by an owl near Homer.

The Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage has received eight injured owls so far this year, with many of them showing signs of hunger. Staff are currently treating an owl with a head injury, and many of the owls that are dropped off for treatment have broken wings after being hit by cars.

In the Homer case, Bird TLC recently received an owl that had attempted to capture a Chihuahua but was hit by a car. The dog reportedly survived the attack.

“Normally they wouldn't go after a Chihuahua. It's not their normal prey, it's not -- obviously there are no wild Chihuahuas for them to practice on," said Heather Merewood, Bird TLC's executive director. "They would have to be pretty desperate to go after (one), no offense to any Chihuahuas.”

Bird TLC staff are looking to train hands-on volunteers in May. The center is always in need of financial donations to care for injured birds.

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Effort Under Way to Redesign Town Square Park


Several organizations are collaborating to address a problem park in Downtown Anchorage and hear possible design ideas from the public on how to make it safer.

Town Square Park has experienced a shift in the population that visits in recent years, according to city officials, Anchorage police and nearby businesses. It has become a place that attracts negative -- and sometimes illegal -- behavior, according to Holly Spoth-Torres, director of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

"We're starting to experience a lot of problems in Town Square (Park), whether it's crime or people just don't feel safe," said Spoth-Torres.

Nearby businesses like Kobuk Coffee Co. are fed up with what they see on almost a daily basis. Nina Bonito-Romine, co-owner of the gift shop, has complained to the city numerous times. She has made frequent calls to police to report negative incidents.

On Thursday, a Kobuk staff member called police after a man began throwing knives at the building. She has had to clean up alcohol bottles, drug paraphernalia and human waste.

"It's very ugly, and for such a beautiful space, it's time to look at how to mitigate those issues so it's harder for people to get away with it," Bonito-Romine said.

Complaints from the public and the Downtown business community have  prompted several groups to address possible designs that may better suit Anchorage and make the park safer. Currently, hills and tall trees create a secluded place for people to gather, not easily visible from the street. Spoth-Torres says this helps hide illegal activities.

However, some people believe the park should be left as-is. Scotty Pasco, 21, is homeless and spends a lot of his time at Town Square.

"People that live on the streets are always in the public eye, and it's kind of nice to be able to have fellowship somewhere where people aren't just watching you 24/7," Pasco said.

Multiple organizations have come together to hold what they call a Town Square Park Charrette -- essentially a design effort that the public is invited to participate in.

"People are starting to think differently of what Town Square Park could be, and I don't want anybody to be afraid," Spoth-Torres said. "We're going to respect the past but move into the future, so that it functions better for the Downtown community."

The Town Square Park Design Charrette will take place on Saturday, April 26 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Individuals are encouraged to register online to participate.

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College Gate Students Motivate Others To Stay Active


Editor's note: This story is the first in Spotlight on Youth, a regular series highlighting the positive effects Alaskan students have on communities across the state.

At College Gate Elementary, home of the Cougars, physical education is not your typical gym class. Using a combination of fitness and fun, these kids won a nationwide competition that brought the current Super Bowl MVP in their building.

From high-stepping in the Super Bowl to figuring out steps at College Gate -- what would bring Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith to the East Anchorage school?

Besides giving NFL players dance lessons, when it comes to fitness College Gate takes it seriously.

Competing in the NFL's "Fuel Up to Play 60" video contest, students beat out hundreds of schools across the country to prove how healthy and active they are.

At any of College Gate students' physical education classes, however, moving is what they do every day. Just ask Derrick "DJ" Glass who has also learned how to eat healthier. 

"I would tell people to eat at least five to six fruit and veggies a day," said the sixth grader. "Sometimes we don't play sports that we play in PE, but we still have fun and stay fit and work with each other."

With activities like Team Pirate Ball, a game similar to Capture the Flag., PE teacher Katie Povolo says she tries to inspire kids to stay in shape.

"The important thing for me is that they are doing it, they are involved, they are making the effort, they're building the habit," Povolo said.

College Gate staff are trying to get students to move -- not just in the gym, but in their everyday lives. That's exactly what sixth grader Roine Faupula is doing.

"One day I told my parents that we should go and walk to East High School and play basketball, so we did before and we still do it," Faupula said. "You can go out and play 60 minutes a day and you can go to a park with your friends and play tag."

Smith's visit to College Gate was only part of the school's prize, alongside a $15,000 donation to the school's PE program. Povolo says she's using the money to buy new cross-country skis and snowshoes for students to use.

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House Finance Advances Gas Line Bill


The House Finance Committee has advanced a bill setting the state's participation in a major liquefied natural gas project. Several members expressed both optimism about the path forward and skepticism of whether the process would finally yield a long hoped-for gas pipeline. SB138 is one of the last big pieces still in play with the session scheduled to end Sunday. It could be voted on in the House on Saturday. Senate President Charlie Huggins has said he doesn't expect the bill to go to a conference committee. A different version of the bill passed the Senate last month. SB138, from Gov. Sean Parnell, is aimed at moving the project into a phase of preliminary engineering and design.

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Senators Seek to Restrict EPA's Project Veto Power


A bipartisan bill introduced by senators from Louisiana and West Virginia, aimed at limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's veto power over proposed projects, now has support from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The Regulatory Fairness Act would remove the EPA's authority to block a project before it has even entered the permitting stage. It also aims to prevent the EPA from retroactively stopping a project once it's been approved for permitting.

The bill was introduced by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), after a West Virginia coal mine had its EPA permit withdrawn despite the mine's completion of the permitting process.

The EPA is currently considering restrictive action against the proposed Pebble Mine, before the company has applied for a permit or submitted a mining plan. State Attorney General Michael Geraghty's office has blasted the EPA's move as an example of federal overreach, saying that without an application from Pebble the EPA would be basing any decision on hypothetical assumptions.

Murkowski says she supports the bill because the EPA needs to have boundaries, not specifically because of the situation involving Pebble.

"This is not about Pebble; this is about a process," Murkowski said. "I think it's important to recognize that there is a process through the Clean Water Act where the EPA can veto this project, but what this bill is designed to do is, is -- say if there is going to be a veto -- it need to be during that time period when there is actually an application."

Some members of the resource-extraction industry say the process of permitting needs to be respected. At the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, general manager Rebecca Logan says the EPA's actions are hindering development. She says major companies will invest in other countries and the United States, and Alaska will lose jobs.

"People who are investing money have to have a certainty.," Logan said. "They have to know that if they invest money and do the right things, that they're going to be allowed to proceed."

In the Bristol Bay area, some locals support the EPA's position. Brian Kraft, who owns three lodges in the region, is opposed to both Pebble and the Regulatory Fairness Act. He says the EPA should retain its right to restrict development before a permit is issued, because it could save the companies millions of dollars.

"It doesn't make any business sense at all to allow the business to go forward," Kraft said. "Go through all the steps, apply for the permit and get the permits from the (Army) Corp of Engineers -- and then after that, the EPA come in and tell them, 'Oh no, you shouldn't have that that permit.' So, in my opinion, knowing up front from the EPA is a good thing."

The EPA says it stands by the wording of Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, which outlines the agency's relevant powers over projects. Under the section, after holding public hearings with appropriate notice, its administrator may prohibit or restrict projects upon determining that material discharges "will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas."

In an overview of Section 404(c) posted online (PDF), the EPA says it has "very sparingly" used its veto authority, employing it 13 times since 1972.

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Senate Finance Unveils Education Bill Rewrite


The Senate Finance Committee has overhauled a broad-ranging education bill, opting to provide additional aid to districts outside the per-pupil funding formula known as the base student allocation. Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer said the bill will provide more choices in education and incentivize districts to do things differently. He said the hope with this package is that it will lead to change and capitalize on programs that work. The draft rewrite of HB278 borrows from numerous education bills and proposals that have been pending this session. It would add support for charter schools, residential schools and correspondence study programs. It calls for funding to improve Internet service for certain schools. It also calls for a study of how the state funds education.

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Alaska Delegation Sputters on Keystone XL Pipeline Delay


A State Department announcement extending the time period for federal agencies to review the Keystone XL Pipeline project is garnering bipartisan condemnation from Alaska’s congressional delegation. Environmentalists have hailed Friday’s decision in Washington D.C., with members of the All Risk, No Reward Coalition telling CNN that “every day without Keystone XL is a day that we keep high-carbon tar sands in the ground.” The decision has been sharply criticized by pro-energy lawmakers, however, and Alaska’s were no exception. In a Friday statement, U.S. Senator Mark Begich blasted the State Department’s announcement that it will extend the time period for federal agencies to review the Canada-U.S. oil pipeline, further delaying a final decision. “I am frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project,” Begich said. “Today’s announcement means we’ll miss another construction season, and another opportunity to create thousands of jobs across the country. As I have said repeatedly, this process has gone on long enough -- well past five years -- and has multiple federal reviews and open comment periods.” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, took an even more strident tone on the announcement, with harsh words regarding both its content and its Friday release. “The administration's choice to delay indefinitely a decision on extending the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing short of a stunning act of political cowardice,” Murkowski said. “And the timing of this announcement -- waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice -- only adds further insult.” Rep. Don Young took President Barack Obama’s administration to task for the delay leading up to Friday’s decision, noting that it comes more than five years after the first submission of an application on the pipeline. “I wish I could say I was surprised, but this President has shown us politics and gamesmanship continues to be the standard operating procedure of his administration,” Young said. “This announcement, predictably released as the American public’s attention is with family and celebrating the Easter holiday, is not a good Friday for American jobs and infrastructure.” Channel 2 tried Friday to reach members of TransCanada, the company behind both the Keystone XL project and a now-defunct plan by former Gov. Sarah Palin to build a natural gas pipeline in Alaska. Representatives of the firm, now one of four energy companies involved in Gov. Sean Parnell’s version of a plan for a gas line, weren’t available due to the Good Friday holiday. Channel 2’s Chris Klint contributed information to this story.

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USPS Worker Allegedly Fished During $334K Disability Fraud


An Anchorage U.S. Postal Service worker has been indicted after allegedly collecting a third of a million dollars in federal worker’s compensation and disability payments since 2009, while fishing during summers. According to a Friday statement from U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler’s office, 56-year-old Amancio Zamora Agcaoili Jr. faces 18 counts handed down by a grand jury, as well as two forfeiture allegations. The charges include wire fraud, theft of government funds, Federal Employees’ Compensation Act fraud, and Social Security fraud.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Yvonne Lamoreaux, the prosecutor in the case, says the case stems from a lower back injury Agcaoili began receiving Social Security and worker's comp payments for in November 2001. She refused to comment on whether any of those payments are considered fraudulent, with the case at hand only covering payments since Feb. 12, 2009.

"He was arrested yesterday, he was arraigned today, and a continuance hearing is set for Tuesday," Lamoreaux said. Prosecutors say Agcaoili collected at least $334,000 in payments since 2009, in what they call “a scheme to defraud the federal government about the nature and extent of his injury and about the other work he was performing and income he was receiving.” Agcaoili allegedly did additional jobs, including preparing income tax returns and immigration forms, but lied on federal forms and said he hadn’t had other work in order to still qualify for payments. “The indictment alleges that despite Agcaoili’s disability claims, Agcaoili went dipnetting and fishing on multiple occasions every summer between 2009 and 2013,” prosecutors wrote. In the statement, Kevin Feldis, chief of the criminal division of Loeffler’s office, says prosecutors are committed to fighting cases of fraud against the federal government. “Each time someone intentionally defrauds the United States in order to receive federal benefits, such as workers’ compensation and disability payments, it undermines the integrity of those federal programs, and harms all law-abiding citizens,” Feldis said. Both the Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Program and the Social Security Administration Disability Insurance Benefits program were allegedly defrauded in the case. Loeffler’s office credits inspectors general at both the USPS and Social Security with jointly conducting the investigation. Lamoreaux says that if convicted, Agcaoili would face prison time subject to federal sentencing guidelines. Those include maximum sentences of 20 years for each of 10 counts of wire fraud in the indictment, 10 years apiece for two counts of theft of government funds, and five years apiece for five counts of FECA fraud and one count of Social Security fraud.

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Man Pleads Guilty of Disrupting Flight Diverted to Anchorage


A man who became drunk and disruptive on a February All Nippon Airways flight from Japan, causing the jet to be diverted to Anchorage, has made a guilty plea in the federal case against him. U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler’s office says Friday that Nobuya Michael Ochinero, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with a flight crew in the Feb. 10 incident. According to a charging document in the case, Ochinero was on several medications when he boarded ANA Flight 10 from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport to New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Ochinero told investigators he drank four shots of gin and two beers on board the flight, with passengers and flight attendants saying he pushed and berated them after he was refused further alcohol. He was eventually strapped to his chair until the plane landed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport at about 12:40 a.m. Monday. Law enforcement officers took Ochinero into custody and he was held at the Anchorage Jail, where his blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.137. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Courter, who prosecuted the case against Ochinero, says prosecutors didn’t drop any charges against Ochinero in exchange for his plea. While he has agreed to pay restitution to ANA for its costs in the incident, with a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, his final sentence has yet to be decided by a judge. “We plan to ask for a fairly extensive period of probation, giving (Ochinero) time to pay that restitution,” Courter said. “Of course, our recommendation is our recommendation and the judge can impose his own sentence.” Ochinero’s sentencing date has been set for July 7.

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Strong Earthquakes Rock Noatak Area


A series of earthquakes rattled northwest Alaska about 40 miles northeast of Kotzebue Friday morning, beginning with a strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake at 10:44 a.m. “It’s a very striking earthquake,” said state seismologist Michael West, the director of the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks. “I’m not aware of anything in the last 30 years in the area anywhere close in size.” West says the initial quake was the one of the largest on record for the region, and was followed by a series of less-powerful quakes, including a 5.3 magnitude aftershock that struck just 12 minutes later. “We’ve recorded at least 10 or so aftershocks in the last couple of hours; I’m quite sure there are many more that are a lot smaller,” West said. The centers of the quakes were about 20 miles northeast of the 500-strong community of Noatak, with the Red Dog Mine also 20 miles away. Staff at the Noatak school say it shook the whole building for nearly a minute. Ice fishermen on the Noatak River say it pushed water through their fishing hole and on top of the ice. Amy Mitchell, a health aide in training at the Noatak clinic, said the quake caused a commotion there. “We have a VHF (radio) here and people were going on that,” Mitchell said. “Our other health aide and our supervisor were telling people to go under tables and under the doorframe -- interesting and scary for me.” Despite rattling buildings, no damage or injuries have been reported. Alaska State Troopers say they’ve received no calls asking for help or reporting damage. No tsunamis are expected, according to the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer. According to West, there’s no evidence suggesting the quakes are a prelude to something bigger. Dozens of aftershocks continued through Friday, but West says the seismic activity should die down by next week. “Our alarms have been going crazy all morning with each one of these sort of updating into our system, but they’ll die off into the coming days,” West said.   The Earthquake Information Center says the quake was felt as far away as Kotzebue, but just barely.

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Fairbanks High Speed Chase Ends Downtown


Troopers and police were involved in a high speed chase Thursday night that ended in downtown Fairbanks.

AST reports that at 10:30 p.m., troopers attempted a traffic stop on a tan 1996 Saturn on University Avenue, but the driver refused to stop, instead choosing to drive off at excessive speeds. Other troopers and Fairbanks police officers were called to the area to help stop the vehicle.

The vehicle eventually made its way into downtown Fairbanks, where police resorted to spike strips in order to slow it down. Once the vehicle came to a stop, the driver fled on foot, leaving their passengers in the vehicle to face questioning by police.

The driver was not found near the scene, and an investigation continues into the reason behind their flight.

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Remote Alaska Quake Followed by Aftershock


A moderate earthquake was recorded Friday morning in Alaska above the Arctic Circle, and was followed by an aftershock almost as powerful.

The Alaska Earthquake Information Center reports in a release that the quake was felt in the hub community of Kotzebue and at the Red Dog Mine, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

The quake in the Brooks Range region of Alaska had a magnitude of 5.5, and was located at a depth of about 15 miles. It was followed two minutes later by an aftershock that had a magnitude of 5.3.

Dorothy Kress was laying in her bed in her home in Kotzebue when she felt the shake. Kress's husband had left to run some errands and she was home alone.

"It scared me a little bit," Kress said. "I've been in really bad earthquakes before."It was kinda spooky when you can’t get away from it.

The quake was centered about 15 miles northeast of Noatak, in northwest Alaska.

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Judge Rejects Witness in Kodiak Coast Guard Trial


A federal judge says defense attorneys in the Kodiak Coast Guard murder trial can't for now call a witness in custody on another case.

Judge Ralph Beistline ruled Friday that 38-year-old Jason Barnum didn't have a sufficient connection to testify in the trial of 62-year-old James Wells.

Wells is charged with murder in the deaths of co-workers Richard Belisle and James Hopkins on April. 12, 2012, at a communications station.

Barnum acknowledged being in Kodiak at the time but says he didn't know the slain men.

Barnum is charged with attempting to kill an Anchorage police officer at hotel in September 2012.

Barnum is heavily tattooed and prosecutor Karen Loeffler says there's no reason to call him as a witness other than to frighten the jury.

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Kone Found Guilty in 2012 Stabbing Death


Tidiane Kone, the man accused of the stabbing death of Adrian Beaver on Fairbanks Street in 2012, was found guilty of his charges by an Anchorage jury Friday morning.

The jury also found Kone, 32, guilty of first-degree and fourth-degree assault charges in the attack which left another man seriously injured.

According to charging documents, Kone stabbed Beaver at least 15 times and slashed the other man.

This is a developing story. Check back with KTUU.com for more details.

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#AKasks: Getting to Know Alaska's 2014 GOP Candidates for US Senate


Before Alaska voters decide if Sen. Mark Begich deserves another term, Republicans will head to the polls in August to pick which candidate has the best chance of unseating the incumbent Democrat.

Begich has three announced opponents: Joe Miller, a Fairbanks lawyer who won the 2010 GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

In a candidate forum hosted by the Alaska Press Club and moderated by KTUU's Steve Mac Donald, Alaskans will soon have a chance to get to know the candidates better.

All candidates have confirmed their participation in the event.

Instead of questions coming from media, people from all over the state will have the opportunity to ask candidates about their take on important issues.

You can submit a written question on Twitter using the hashtag #AKasks, and you can also send written or video questions to alaskaasks@gmail.com.

The hour-long forum will air April 25 at 7 p.m. on KTUU. Questions must be submitted no later than April 18 .

HOW TO SUBMIT VIDEO QUESTIONS

1. Find a place with good lighting and minimal background noise, take out your smartphone and ask a question with the camera clearly showing your face.

2. Be sure to hold the phone horizontally so the video can be displayed well on screens. Keeping the camera steady is also important.

3. Send the video to alaskaasks@gmail.com.

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Hatcher Pass to Close to Snow Machine Use


Alaska parks officials say Hatcher Pass is closing to snow machine use because of warming weather.

The Hatcher Pass east management area is scheduled to close to snow machine use, beginning Saturday.

Officials say the closure includes the east side of Hatcher Pass, including Summit Lake State Recreation Area.

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Concerns Raised Over Young Woman's Jail Cell Death


One week after the death of 24-year-old Amanda Kernak, a woman who shared her cell is raising concerns about whether Kernak's death could have been prevented. 

The Department of Corrections is investigating Kernak's death at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River, according to DOC spokesperson Kaci Schroeder. Eagle River hairstylist Rachelle Hamilton says there is a lot to look into.

Hamilton shared a cell with Kernak at the Anchorage Jail on Tuesday, April 8. Hamilton was in custody because she failed to complete a required anger-management course, while Kernak had been arrested for a DUI. Kernak's blood-alcohol content was over 0.3 -- nearly four times the legal limit of 0.08, which Schroeder says was too high for her to be admitted to Hiland.

Kernak had to wait at the jail with Hamilton until her alcohol levels fell.

"The whole time she was really sick. She was throwing up every five to 10 minutes," Hamilton said. "(Staff) took her out for a minute and then they were going to move her, but they couldn't because she was throwing up so they put her back in the cell."

Hamilton thinks jail staff should have done more to help Kernak.

"I didn't see her ask for help or anything, but at the same time, spending all that time with her, knowing how sick she was -- to me it felt like that was very rude," Hamilton said. "It was very dehumanizing."

Kernak was later taken to Hiland. On April 10, staff there found Kernak dead in her cell.

"I can tell you that she was not ignored," Schroeder saod. "Our guards do regular checks and she did receive the advanced intake health evaluation."

Schroeder says a health screening is completed for every individual booked, but DOC wouldn't say whether Kernak had told staff about a heart condition she had. According to Kernak's sister, Jennifer Wassillie, Kernak had suffered a heart attack last month and was taking daily medication for her condition.

On Thursday, Kernak's family attended her funeral in the village of Kokhanok, her hometown. They are awaiting autopsy results that will provide some answers into her death.

"We don't know anything. We want to see the facts of how she died and we don't have any kind of information about that because we haven't seen her autopsy," said Wassillie.

The Department of Corrections is also investigating the recent death of 20-year-old inmate Davon Mosley. He was found dead in a cell at the Anchorage Jail on April 4.

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Parnell Signs Law Defining 'Medically Necessary' Abortions


Gov. Sean Parnell signed Senate Bill 49 into law on Thursday, legislation that defines what constitutes a "medically necessary" abortion for purposes of state Medicaid coverage of their costs.

Planned Parenthood says the law is nearly identical to the administrative rule that was passed earlier this year, which requires doctors to check mark the conditions which deem an abortion as "medically necessary."

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, says the law is a sign that the governor is getting between a woman and her doctor.

"By stripping the Medicaid women's health program from this bill earlier this session, Governor Parnell and the legislators showed their true interests is restricting pregnancy decisions for low income women and not promoting women's health," Cler said.

Jim Minnery, the president of Alaska Family Action, says the legislation reduces Medicaid fraud.

"In our view, there's massive Medicaid fraud that's happening right now in that a lot of abortionists have been submitting for Medicaid payments on elective procedures," Minnery said.

Under the new law, Medicaid payments can only be used for abortions if: the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape; to avoid a threat of serious risk to the life or physical health of a woman;, or to prevent death or impairment to a major bodily function.

Planned Parenthood says the rules are too restrictive for low-income women.

"If the governor and the legislature were truly concerned about reducing the number of abortions, they would focus their efforts on increasing access to birth control," Cler said.

Alaska Family Action says the conditions will hold people seeking an abortion to the law.

"If you want that procedure, then you need to go someplace else to get that payment," Minnery said. "If you're going to ask the state of Alaska tax payers to use Medicaid to pay for it, then it has to be medically necessary."

While the conditions go into effect 90 days from Thursday, Planned Parenthood says the fight isn't over and it will likely challenge the law in court.

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Controversial AGDC Board Appointment Confirmed


A joint session of the Alaska Legislature has voted largely along party lines to confirm out-of-state nominee Richard Rabinow to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s board of directors. AGDC is in charge of supervising construction of any future natural gas pipelines in the state of Alaska. Gov. Sean Parnell submitted Rabinow’s name in September, but since then several lawmakers sought to block his confirmation because Rabinow is a resident of Houston, Texas. On Wednesday, the governor signed a bill sponsored by House Speaker Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) altering a law barring out-of-state residents from serving on certain state boards. The bill allows the governor to put forward a nominee to the AGDC board if there aren’t any Alaskans qualified to serve on it. In addition to Rabinow’s residency, some lawmakers still harbor concerns about his 34-year career with ExxonMobil, saying it will cause him to make decisions that benefit the oil industry over Alaska’s interests. "Despite changing the statute all of two days ago to make his appointment legal, I still object,” said Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage).  “He does not live here.  He lives in Texas.” The Senate confirmed Rabinow on a 14-6 vote, followed by a 29-11 House vote. "I want the best and the brightest and if we have to import the  because we don't have experience here in Alaska building gas lines, than that's what we need to do,” said Rep. Charisse Millett, (R-Anchorage). Non-public members of AGDC are paid both their travel expenses and a per diem while on board-related business.

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