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Weather advisory: Heavy snow, ?potent? storm approaching Southcentral

The Anchorage Office of Emergency Management has issued a winter weather advisory predicting heavy snow in the Anchorage Hillside from 6 p.m. Friday to noon Saturday.

“A potent winter storm is developing across the Bering,” the Office of Emergency Management wrote. The National Weather Service says Anchorage and Eagle River will be affected.

Snowfall of 6 to 9 inches is expected, developing late Friday and tapering off the following morning, even as the city prepares for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start downtown.

Travel might be difficult, city officials warn.

A winter storm warning is also in place for the Susitna Valley, including Talkeetna, Willow and Cantwell, from 6 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Saturday.



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Toksook Bay elder remembered for life honoring culture

Paul John died in an Anchorage hospital Friday morning following months of heart troubles, according to family.

Myron Naneng says he was able to visit his uncle in the hospital the day before his passing.

"He was a strong advocate for cultural language preservation and respect for people," said Naneng. "He also supported education for the young folks in villages so they can get to pursue whatever they want when they grow up."

Naneng said his uncle was also a strong family man and respected elder.

John was a former board member of the Yukon-Kuskokwin Health Corporation and a traditional chief of the Association of Village Council Presidents. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed her condolence for John on Facebook.

"With many Alaskans, I am mourning the passing of Chief Paul John of Toksook Bay, who passed away peacefully this morning. It was a tremendous honor of mine to know him, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Martina and his entire family. He was a cultural treasure and a thoughtful teacher, and will be greatly missed."

John was 88 at the time of his death.



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Boy shot to death by another kid who thought pistol 'was a toy'

A 7-year-old boy in a Northwest village was shot to death Wednesday morning by another child, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Stanley Custer was playing with other kids in a Shungnak home, when they found a pistol they thought was a toy.

"Custer was injured when the pistol was fired and the bullet struck him in the head," troopers wrote in a Friday dispatch. "The other children ran to summon help from an adult."

Family was on scene immediately, and the boy was taken to the Maniilaq Clinic for treatment. The injuries were severe enough that a medevac was requested, but Custer died prior to transport.

No foul play is suspected, but an investigation is ongoing.



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Hatcher Pass opens to snowmachiners thanks to fresh snowfall

State officials have re-opened Hatcher Pass to motorized vehicles thanks to Thursday evening snowfall. 

Ben Ellis, director of Alaska State Parks, says Friday superintendent Wayne Biessel and the Hatcher Pass ranger made the call to open to East side to snowmachine use. 

"The opening pretains ONLY to the Fishhook Parking lot west and along the snowmachine corridor, up and over the summit to the west side of Hatcher Pass," says the Department of Natural Resources in a press release.

The area had been closed indefinitely to protect vegetation after the warm Southcentral winter left fewer than three feet of snow on the ground. Rangers say Hatcher Pass normally has about 10 to 12 feet of snow during the winter. 

A winter weather advisory is in place for Southcentral Alaska beginning 6 p.m. tonight. 

The DNR advises people to take caution near open water areas, which still exist.It says crews are working to break a cornice that has formed and poses a danger. 



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Child hit-and-run victim recovering from broken leg, concussion

A 10-year-old boy suffered a broke leg and concussion after the bike he was riding was struck by a car Thursday night according to police. The Anchorage Police Department says the driver fled the scene.

The child was treated at a local hospital and released according to APD. Police say the young boy was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, shortly after 9 p.m. near 20th Avenue and Aleutian Street. 

Authorities were told the driver was in a white sedan and headed West on East 20th following the crash. 

Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call 786-8900 or Crimestoppers at 561-STOP.

This is a developing story. Check KTUU.com and watch Channel 2 News for updates.



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Following firing of DA, Bethel prosecutor resigns

Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti has resigned from his position at the Bethel district attorney’s office, KYUK Public Media reports.

His resignation comes about two weeks after the firing of Bethel District Attorney June Stein.

While working in the office Sunday, February 22, Stein received a letter, hand-delivered from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.”

Stein says the letter said, “This action is being taken at the direction of the governor as part of the transition of the new administration.”

The Governor’s spokesperson has so far declined repeated requests for an interview about why Stein was fired and maintains Walker can’t talk about it because it’s a personnel issue.

Carpeneti was tapped to be interim leader at the Bethel DA’s office after Stein’s departure. Stein’s last day is Monday, March 9.

Carpeneti’s last day is scheduled to be April 3.

Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills told KTUU the department could not comment on either the firing or the resignation.

Mills said a plan to make sure staffing in the office is sufficient is still being developed: "Right now we're working on a plan to ensure adequate coverage of the office," she said.

Information acquired by KTUU was included in this report.



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Community center for the deaf wants state to hear plea for funding

There are more than 25,000 people in Alaska who are deaf or hard of hearing and need support, according to the state. The Denali Deaf Community Center says it's a resource for those people but needs help keeping the doors open.

The DDCC has been leasing space on Fifth Avenue in Anchorage for about a year. If it can't come to an agreement to buy the space, this spring the landlord is putting the space up for sale.

"We're a very under-served community," says Pam Soderholm, treasurer of DDCC. "This is the last option for everyone."

Last year, DDCC asked for $2.6 million from the state but was turned down. This year, the organization is asking for just under $1 million which would be enough to buy the space and renovate the lighting to allow for better communication via sign language and lip reading.

Soderholm says if the DDCC doesn't get the one-time funding, it will have to find a new space.



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National study highlights teen dating violence

New statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the prevalence of teenage dating violence nationwide.

According to the study, one in five high school girls experience sexual or physical violence from a dating partner.

In Alaska, a 2013 survey on youth risk behavior showed about 9 percent of teens have experienced physical violence in a dating relationship, while 11.4 percent have experienced sexual dating violence.

IN THIS STORY:

-Cindy Moore, the mother of 20-year-old Bree Moore who police say was shot and killed by 22-year-old Joshua Almeda last June, says her daughter was a victim of dating violence. Cindy Moore says she never noticed the red flags in her daughter's year-long relationship with Almeda.

-Teenage panelists talk about prevention efforts in their own communities at the Prevention Summit hosted by the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

- Moore's parents are working with lawmakers to implement teen dating violence education in Alaska schools.



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Mad Hatcher gets creative to keep its doors open

Unseasonably warm weather and a lack of snowfall have forced park rangers to keep Hatcher Pass closed to all motorized vehicles, a decision that has upset park visitors and created problems for local businesses.

Across the valley, local businesses that rely on snow say they have taken a big hit this winter. During the winter months, Carmen West, owner of Mad Hatcher in Hatcher Pass, says typically the parking lot is packed and the restaurant is filled with patrons, but this year that hasn't been the case. West says this season her business is about 40 percent below average. She has had to make cuts to keep her doors open.

"I ditched my Tuesdays to cut off another day just for payroll and food costs and stuff so we minimized to five days a week," said West.

In addition to limiting hours, Mad Hatcher has got creative in an attempt to bring in more business.

Recently the restaurant began booking live music which West says has been the only thing that has kept them busy through the winter.



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Lawmakers tackle multiple marijuana bills

Lawmakers wrapped their heads around yet another marijuana related bill in the Alaska Legislature Thursday.

"This provision reminds me of legalizing moonshine," said Sen. Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla).

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee heard a 38 page presentation on Senate Bill 62.

The legislation regulates the commercial sale of marijuana.

According to the legislation, licenses to sell marijuana must be accepted or rejected 45 to 90 days after receiving an application.

Commercial sales become legal February 24th, 2016, one year after a voter-approved initiative to legalize marijuana took effect.

"We've looked for guidance from the federal government. We've talked to our banking industry, which still has big question marks on what they're going to do," said Senate Majority Leader John Coghill (R-North Pole).

"We've talked to our banking industry, which still has big question marks on what they're going to do," said Bruce Schulte, a spokesperson for Reasonable Cannabis Legislation..

Coghill's office helped author SB62, which also provides an array of licenses issued by the ABC Board or a marijuana control board, should that entity be created. Rules around packaging and advertising are also in the bill, as well as keeping the industry in Alaska.

"That one appears to be an effort to keep the marijuana industry exclusively Alaska based, which we support in concept, but we also want it written in a way that it doesn't exclude folks outside the state," said Schulte.

Schulte is concerned that people who want to start a cannabis business may need capital from investors in the Lower 48.

There are six other bills in the legislature dealing with marijuana including HB59 which focuses on concentrates.

SB30 rewrites the criminal code to be in compliance with the initiative.

HB79 deals with marijuana as a controlled substance and HB75 allows municipalities to set their own ordinances regarding marijuana use within their boundaries.

A pair of bills -- SB60 and HB123 -- would establish a marijuana control board.



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Whittier Chamber of Commerce says town is losing big-budget movie

The president of the Whittier Chamber of Commerce says big-budget thriller "Hunter Killer," which was once planned to film almost entirely in the small Alaska town, will now shoot most scenes out of state.

In this video: 

-- The producers for the film applied Feb. 27 for incentives to film in the state of Louisiana. They listed as $64 million. 

-- The Whittier Chamber of Commerce says the film has been postponed. The news comes shortly after an Alaska casting call. 

-- The chamber president says a lack of snow combined with uncertainty over Alaska's film incentive program contributed to the change. 



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Alaska's melting, noisy icebergs might help seals hide from predators

A new study from the University of Alaska Fairbanks finds that melting ice in glacial fjords makes much more noise than previously thought -- and might affect animals’ ability to evade attacks from predators. UAF Department of Geosciences glaciologist Erin Pettit conducted the study, along with researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Washington in Seattle and the U.S. Geological Survey. According to a Thursday statement from UAF, their paper has been published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal operated by the American Geophysical Union. “Glacial calving contributed some of the noise, but the loud sounds were short-lived,” UAF officials wrote. “When looking at overall noise levels for a long period of time, Pettit said it was the consistent melting of ice from the glaciers and their icebergs that was the real noise generator. Air trapped within the glacier ice escapes rapidly as it melts into saltwater, forming bubbles in the water that pop as they pinch off from the ice.”

111 UAF also released a series of short YouTube videos containing examples of the sounds made by melting sea ice. In the 22-page study (PDF), six authors -- Pettit, Kevin Lee, Joel Brann, Jeffrey Aaron Nystuen, Preston Scot Wilson, and Shad O’Neel -- say they deployed hydrophones in three fjords with glacial iceberg to gather their data. The team visited Yakutat Bay in May 2009, Icy Bay in the Wrangell-St. Elias Wilderness in July 2009 and July 2010, and Andvord Bay in Antactica in May 2013.

222 “The researchers found that the average underwater noise level from bubbles in these fjords exceeded ocean noise levels generated by all other sources, including weather, the movement and communication of fish, and machines such as ships and sonar devices,” UAF officials wrote. “The team measured sound waves at frequencies between 300 and 20,000 Hertz, which covers most of the average human’s hearing range.” Results from the study described a chaotic soundscape beneath the waves, which can come into play against pods of orcas.

333 “In fjords with icebergs, environmental conditions work against the dominant predators: transient killer whales,” researchers wrote in the study. “These whales hunt using passive listening, as seals easily detect echolocation and high turbidity levels deter visual methods.” Based on the hydrophone data, Pettit and the other researchers believe the level of noise generated in fjords can make them a safe haven.

444 “The extreme loudness of the sound in Icy Bay, Yakutat Bay, and Andvord Bay, suggest that noise levels inside glacierized fjords increase the predation cost for killer whales to levels that dissuade them from the abundant source of prey,” researchers wrote. “The prey, in turn, use the same noise source as a shelter. As a glacier retreats and changes from a tidewater calving glacier to a land terminating glacier, as the Muir Glacier did to produce Glacier Bay, Alaska, the ambient noise will change significantly and potentially lead to significant changes in the fjord ecosystem.” Pettit put it more plainly Thursday, discussing the significance of the sound levels to both glacial scientists and sea life.

555 “The ocean ambient sound gives us clues to the physical processes going on, but it also is an important aspect of the environment in which marine mammals and fish live,” Pettit said in the statement. “Like teenagers at a loud rock concert, the seals and whales modify their behavior depending on the ambient sound levels.” According to Pettit, climate change is likely to first increase the rate of glacial melting into oceans, then abruptly end the process as glaciers retreat ashore.

666 “As glaciers retreat onto land, the seals would lose the acoustic camouflage, which might explain why harbor seal populations are declining in fjords where glaciers have retreated onto land,” UAF officials wrote. “(Pettit) said further studies are needed to investigate the relationship between the underwater noise levels and the fjord ecosystem. The team will continue listening to glaciers to see if they can develop a method of predicting glacier melt based on the underwater sounds.” UAF says the team hopes to “develop a method of predicting glacier melt based on the underwater sounds.”



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No charges for former Kake VPSO asked by kids to tase them

Prosecutors will not file charges against a former Kake village public safety officer who used a Taser stun gun on two boys who wanted to know how it felt to be shocked by the device. The Juneau Empire newspaper reports Charles "Mac" McGonigal is no longer employed as a VPSO in the southeast Alaska community. McGonigal was accused of tasing the boys at their request in November. Juneau District Attorney James Scott says McGonigal showed a "horrible" lapse of judgment. But he says a review of the case showed no crime was committed, and that the children were laughing after the incident. Scott says the case is a personnel matter. There is no listing in Alaska for McGonigal, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.



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Necropsy suggests Alaska SeaLife Center sea lion had cancer

A 21-year-old Steller sea lion was euthanized at the Alaska SeaLife Center Wednesday, after ongoing medical issues due to bone degeneration. In a Thursday statement, the Seward-based center says Sugar, a female which had been with the center since May 1993, had been made as comfortable as possible after the rapid advance of her disease. “As a result of Sugar’s mature age, veterinarians had been closely monitoring her health,” center staff wrote. “Sugar had not been previously showing any signs of discomfort or pain when significant bone loss/damage was revealed by routine radiograph screening for age related bone changes such as arthritis.” Sugar had accompanied Woody, the center’s oldest male sea lion, from the Vancouver Aquarium when they were both five years old. Center staff say she quickly became a favorite with both visitors and workers, due to her “animated personality.” Dr. Tara Riemer, the center’s president and CEO, as well as senior veterinarian Dr. Pam Tuomi both remembered Sugar fondly. “Sugar has been a part of the Alaska SeaLife Center family since even before we opened in 1998,” Riemer said in the statement. “Having worked at the Center since 2003, I can't imagine not having such a well-trained and beautiful animal in our midst. She will be sorely missed.” “Her real name was Sugarloaf but Sugar fit her so well,” Tuomi said. “She contributed so much to our knowledge of the health and physiology of her species and captured our hearts in the process.” Brett Long, the center's director of animal husbandry, said Thursday afternoon that staff were awaiting confirmation of initial results after a necropsy was performed on Sugar. "Pathologists and our veterinarians are convinced that it was cancer that led to this challenge," Long said. A decision had been made 10 to 14 days ago to euthanize Sugar when the sea lion's standard of living became untenable, but Long said Sugar was "engaged and ready to participate in training" up until Wednesday. "She remained in public view up until yesterday morning," Long said. "She was in one of our larger pools, that had very easy access to her haulout space." Riemer said Thursday afternoon that the SeaLife Center's sea lion population includes four other adult females, and there are no specific plans to replace Sugar.



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March in Alaska: Your state, your photos

Fur hats and fireworks, sled dogs and hopefully some snow. KTUU viewers share their best shots of March in Alaska. 



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Goodnews Bay-Platinum search suspended for missing man, 74

Nearly a week after a Platinum man was last seen driving an ATV home from Goodnews Bay on a half-hour trip, Alaska State Troopers say search efforts for him have been suspended Thursday. According to a Thursday AST dispatch, search efforts for 74-year-old Henry Williams ended at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Williams had left Goodnews Bay for Platinum Friday afternoon, returning from a grocery trip along a short trail; when he didn’t arrive, a major air and ground search over the weekend tried but failed to find him. AST spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said that since the weekend, deteriorating weather and ice conditions have limited searchers’ capabilities. Just a few ground searchers on ATVs were sent out Wednesday, with a lone volunteer taking advantage of better ice conditions near Platinum Thursday to make a boat search of the immediate area. “Nothing was found and ice is really bad -- it’s so unstable they don’t want anyone going out on it,” Ipsen said. “They feel pretty confident that they’ve exhausted all their options.” Although troopers have ceased making active searches for Williams, Ipsen said they would respond to any new evidence or information. “Unfortunately, the weather has prevented any aerial search,” Ipsen said. “If the weather clears up in the near future, we’ll send one of our planes up.”



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APD names victim in fatal Midtown vehicle-pedestrian crash

Anchorage police have identified the man fatally struck by a sport-utility vehicle at a heavily trafficked Midtown intersection Wednesday afternoon. A Thursday statement from APD names the deceased as 51-year-old Russell G. Place. Officers say his next of kin have been notified after the 1:30 p.m. collision in which he lost his life, at the intersection of Benson Boulevard and the New Seward Highway. “A preliminary investigation of the accident found that the driver of the SUV, a 49-year-old female, was traveling northbound on the New Seward Highway when the vehicle collided with Russell Place who was walking in the roadway,” police wrote. “Place was pronounced deceased at the scene by medics.” APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said Thursday afternoon that that the driver stayed at the scene. Officers closed the intersection for more than two hours, not reopening Benson and New Seward until about 3:40 p.m.

“She was fully cooperative,” Castro said. Castro said more detailed information on the crash, such as whether Place had right-of-way to cross New Seward or the driver saw him prior to the collision, remain under investigation.



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No injuries as AFD stops East Anchorage trailer fire

Firefighters say nobody was hurt in an East Anchorage trailer fire Thursday morning. Anchorage Fire Department dispatchers say the fire, at a trailer in the Glacier Terrace Trailer Court at 4110 DeBarr Rd., was first reported at 10:59 a.m. Responding units subsequently discovered that it was a couch fire.

AFD spokesman John See said a total of five units from the department were called to the fire, with the fire quickly knocked down after they arrived. Crews were still at the scene as of 11:20 a.m.

"There's no injuries and no entrapments," See said.

An investigator is being sent to the scene to determine the exact cause of the fire. Channel 2's Amberia Hill contributed information to this story.



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Jury convicts 3 in violent 2012 Anchorage robbery

An Anchorage jury has convicted three men in connection with a 2012 Fairview-area robbery that left one victim seriously injured, with prosecutors saying a fourth suspect in the case remains at large. Deputy District Attorney Clint Campion said in a statement on Wednesday’s verdict that all three defendants -- Richard Arlen Erdman, 28, Taylor Ross Smith, 26, and James Earl Smith, 21 -- were found guilty of first-degree robbery and burglary, as well as second-degree assault and theft. “On Aug. 9, 2012, Taylor Smith, Richard Erdman, James Smith, and an unidentified man broke into a residence in the area of Karluk Street and 15th Avenue in Anchorage,” Campion wrote. “The men assaulted a male occupant of the residence who suffered significant injuries. They stole the occupants' belongings and then fled.” Campion said enough personal possessions and electronics were taken from the home to fill the defendants’ getaway vehicle. Police received multiple 911 calls about the incident, quickly catching up with the defendants. When officers made a traffic stop on their vehicle, the defendants got out and ran away; police were subsequently able to apprehend them, however. “The trial began on February 3, 2015 and concluded on Tuesday, March 3, 2015,” Campion wrote. “The jury deliberated for approximately two days and returned guilty verdicts against all three defendants on all of the charges.” Campion said Thursday that the suspects were acquainted with the victims. “This is somewhat drug-fueled or drug-related,” Campion said. “There was allegedly a drug debt that one of the victims owed to one of the defendants.” Two victims of the home invasion, including the man who was injured during the incident, testified at trial. “He suffered fairly significant injuries to his head and face that required treatment,” Campion said. “We have reason to believe that a tool or hammer were used to strike him -- there were other blows.” In addition to being struck with a weapon he described as a framing hammer, the victim told an APD detective that he had been repeatedly kicked. All three defendants face a maximum 20-year sentence on the robbery charge. A June 12 sentencing date has been set for James Smith before Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton, with sentencings yet to be scheduled for Taylor Smith and Richard Erdman. Campion said police never found the fourth male suspect in the robbery. “We would certainly prosecute him, if he could be identified,” Campion said.



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Traffic stop on crumbling camper leads to fight, warrant arrest

An Alaska State Trooper’s Monday traffic stop on a Nikiski man after reports that his camper was “falling apart” led to the man's arrest, after he allegedly lied to the trooper and started a fight. Christopher Mccoy, 45, was taken into custody during a traffic stop just before 2 p.m. Monday on Holt-Lamplight Road. Troopers received a call under AST’s Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately program, according to a Thursday AST dispatch. “Soldotna AST received a REDDI report of a camper falling apart and leaving debris in the road,” troopers wrote. “AST located the camper, which was being towed by another vehicle.” Mccoy, who was wanted on warrants for first-degree burglary and second-degree theft, allegedly provided a false name and birth date before troopers were able to identify him. “When the trooper attempted to arrest Mccoy, Mccoy fought with the trooper,” troopers wrote. “After a brief scuffle Mccoy was taken into custody.” Mccoy was held without bail at the Wildwood Pretrial Facility on new charges of providing false information and resisting arrest, as well as the outstanding warrants.



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