A U.S. soldier accused of deliberately killing two unarmed teenage boys as they herded cattle in Iraq seven years ago is due in military court.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera has been charged with premeditated murder and faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted. He is set for a preliminary hearing Wednesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
The Army has released few details about the allegations against him. The March 2007 killings were documented in a 2012 investigation by Pittsburgh newspaper The Tribune-Review, which said soldiers who served with Barbera had reported the slayings and remained troubled that he hadn't been prosecuted.
It isn't clear if Barbera has a civilian lawyer in addition to military defense attorneys. Barbera was most recently stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
State lawmakers' indecision about Alaska’s education bill is holding up spending in Anchorage.
The Anchorage Assembly had planned to debate the 2014 budget Tuesday night, but decided to postpone that vote amid uncertainty over House Bill 278's fate.
Depending on the education bill's final status, municipal property taxes that support education funding may increase.
Because there’s a holdup with the education bill, Assembly members want to make sure the proposed city budget, as well as what's due in property taxes, match up with the decisions being made in Juneau.
Some 219 Anchorage School District positions are on the line, and the outcome of state lawmakers' discussions about the education bill could save more of those jobs.
“It’s my recommendation and my expectation we’ll take those funds if we’re given them, and we’ll put them directly to support classroom instruction,” ASD Superintendent Ed Graff said at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Lucinda Mahoney, the city's chief financial officer, says it's hard to make projections without the final results expected at the session's 90-day mark Sunday, before it was extended by lawmakers.
“The challenge that we face is that property taxes supporting education may increase depending on what the Legislature decides,” Mahoney said.
Assembly Chair Patrick Flynn says the body could have set a mill levy based on what members think might happen with HB278, but that’s not a risk the Assembly wants to take.
“If we’re incorrect, we are at risk of not providing local funding to match state funding that’s required by the Legislature -- we just want to make sure we’re in alignment with their course,” Flynn said.
The logistics of municipal taxation also factor into the equation. The city's property tax bills are due to taxpayers on May 15, and city officials need at least two weeks to prepare those bills and get them mailed.
“We have to have a decision from the Assembly in regards to the budget by no later than May 1,” Mahoney said.
Flynn announced Tuesday night that the Assembly will take up the budget during a special session next Monday, April 28.
Mahoney says the city's property taxes for education funding won't be clear until until the Legislature decides whether it will increase base student allocation.
If the BSA per student paid to the Anchorage School District and others statewide increases, ASD could potentially get more funding for the 2014-2015 school year.
Three rescue agencies were involved in rescuing a man aboard a sinking raft in Cook Inlet off Kincaid Park Tuesday night, with a helicopter crew using their aircraft’s rotor wash to push the raft ashore as it deflated.
According to a statement from U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer 3rd Class Diana Honings Tuesday night, the man was first reported by Alaska State Troopers to be in distress shortly after 7 p.m., between Kincaid Park and Fire Island.
Coast Guard watchstanders then alerted U.S. Air Force crews, which sent an HC-130 search plane and a UH-60 Black Hawk from nearby Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk from Air Station Kodiak was also dispatched to respond, until the Air Force crews arrived.
“The (Black Hawk crew) used the helicopter’s rotor wash to push the man’s deflating raft to shore where he was met by Alaska State Troopers at 8:19 p.m.,” Honings wrote. “The troopers flew the man to Providence (Alaska Medical Center) for further evaluation.”
"This was a complex case that was only successful because of the close coordination with our partners in the Air Force and Alaska State Troopers,” Lt. Matthew Mitchell, a Coast Guard Sector Anchorage search and rescue mission controller, said in the statement. “We frequently work with our search and rescue partners throughout the state to respond to distress cases as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
AST spokesperson Beth Ipsen didn’t immediately have further details on the rescue late Tuesday night, and Coast Guard spokespersons in Kodiak couldn’t initially be reached.
A law offering sweeping reforms to Alaska’s prison system has passed the state Legislature Tuesday.
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 64 early Monday morning, and the Senate concurred with changes to the bill on Tuesday.
According to a sponsor statement, the bill’s goal is to increase public safety, slow prison growth and cut costs.
It was introduced by Senate Majority Leader John Coghill (R-North Pole) in February 2013.
“This is long overdue and the culmination of years of hard work by Alaskans across the state,” said Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) in a statement released Tuesday. “I believe this is one of the most important pieces of legislation to pass during my time in the Legislature, and I applaud Senator Coghill for his leadership and willingness to work across the aisle.”
Bipartisan supporters of the bill say Alaska will be forced to build another prison, at a cost of $250 million, if it does not attempt to reduce its skyrocketing prison population.
The bill establishes a 24/7 Sobriety Program, which requires certain offenders to submit to twice-a-day alcohol or drug testing. Proponents say the program has lead to a reduction in substance abuse-related offenses in other states.
The measure also provides stricter penalties for attempted abduction, and increases the threshold for felony theft from $500 to $750.
The bill creates the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, to analyze and evaluate the effect of laws and practices within the state’s criminal justice system. In addition it reforms the parole system to provide “swift and certain” punishment for violators.
SB 64 also creates a new mitigating factor for crimes, allowing a judge to take into consideration whether the offense was related to combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
The legislation heads to Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk for his signature.
A Downtown assault that left a man critically injured early Sunday morning is under investigation by Anchorage police.
According to a Tuesday evening statement from APD spokesperson Jennifer Castro, the incident -- which took place on the 700 block of West 4th Avenue, shortly after 2:30 a.m. Sunday -- resulted in “the critical injury of a male victim.”
“Police are investigating the incident and will provide more information when facts of the case are available for public release and doing so will not interfere with an ongoing investigation,” Castro wrote.
In messages Tuesday sent to Channel 2, Castro declined to answer any questions on the assault, citing the pending investigation.
“I know there’s not a lot to say right now and I do not have any further information to provide on the incident at this time,” Castro wrote.
Castro also couldn’t confirm media reports that more information on the case may come out Wednesday.
“It could or it couldn’t depending on the investigation,” Castro wrote.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance made its case in Superior Court this afternoon, in hopes of overturning a decision that would ban commercial set nets in several non-subsistence areas around the state.
Tuesday's court appearance is the latest step in a dispute over set nets dating back to Nov. 6, when AFCA proposed a ballot initiative calling for a ban of set-net fishing in non-subsistence areas of Alaska like Cook Inlet. Areas that would be affected by the ban include fishing spots around Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Valdez and Ketchikan.
"We think there are other methods and other styles of commercial fishing that would be more appropriate to help sustain a long-term resource for the state," said Clark Penney, AFCA's executive director. "So, really, the purpose of the initiative is to ask for a short-term adjustment for a long-term sustainability for a statewide resource."
In January, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell -- who also heads the state's Division of Elections -- rejected the alliance's initiative because he says it violates the state constitution. Treadwell says salmon are a state asset, which can't be appropriated by citizens through the initiative process.
"The unfortunate thing for them is that the Supreme Court and the constitution says you cannot effectively allocate fish or appropriate fish to yourself by the initiative," Treadwell said. "So that's why we ruled it out of order."
On Tuesday afternoon, the two sides met in Superior Court to plead their case, with a decision expected within the next 60 days.
If the state’s decision is overturned by the court, supporters of the initiative will begin gathering signatures with the hopes of putting on the August 2016 primary ballot.
A woman backing a high-profile state bill requiring schools to educate children about avoiding sexual abuse has blamed its apparent failure to pass the Legislature this year on a House committee.
In a Tuesday post on the Facebook page for “Erin’s Law,” creator Erin Merryn calls her bill a casualty of a misunderstanding about its purpose. Merryn, who was sexually abused as a child, has toured state capitals across the U.S. in an effort to get her bill passed nationwide -- an effort she claims hasn't met success in Alaska, despite her April visit to the state.
Subsequent comments from Merryn on her post specifically blame two lawmakers -- House Finance Committee chair Rep. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak) and Rep. Craig Johnson (R-Anchorage) -- for halting her bill’s progress. The bill was unanimously advanced by the House Education Committee in late March, winning passage in the state Senate during an April 11 vote.
“Erin's Law passed completely in the Senate last week however the House Finance Committee killed the bill,” Merryn wrote. “(Members refused) to vote on it because there are people on the committee that think this law is ‘sex ed.’”
According to Merryn, her bill -- which doesn’t mention condoms, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy -- has gained passage in New Mexico, Tennessee and Utah this week. She attributes its lack of traction in Alaska to personal rather than political factors.
“The biggest lesson I have learned in going after this law in every state is how just a few people can have the power to kill a bill even if you have majority support in the Senate or House,” Merryn wrote.
In her message, Merryn calls upon Alaskans who back the intent of her bill to lobby lawmakers on its behalf and continue her work.
“I won't be returning to Alaska,” Merryn wrote. “I will leave it up to the people of Alaska to convince your representatives to protect kids instead of failing them. They need to hear from YOU!”
Members of House Finance were in committee Tuesday afternoon and weren’t immediately available for comment. Queries to House spokespersons on the bill's status were still pending early Tuesday evening.
Channel 2’s Austin Baird and Rebecca Palsha contributed information to this story.
After a state Legislature vote, 20 Alaska Native languages are joining English as official languages of Alaska -- but while many people celebrate, work still continues to keep those languages alive.
You're never too young or old to learn about who you are. Alexia Kaganak, a 6-year-old kindergarten student, isn't afraid to showcase her language as part of her identity.
Thanks to spending part of her day learning Yupik at the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School, Kaganak is able to take what she learns and give it back to others.
"We learn Yupik in here and stuff," Kaganak said of her lessons, including the word "quyana," which means thank you.
Language brings with it cultural lessons, which 28-year-old Dewey Hoffman is happy to be part of. He says the point of teaching others is to keep his Koyukon Athabascan language alive.
"Encoded in our languages there's values, and so that's why it's so important (to keep) languages going," said Hoffman, a development manager at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. "(Language is) a huge storehouse of how to hunt, to access different parts of the land, how to interpret behavior of animals and surroundings."
The idea is not to just to say the words, but to make the languages part of people's everyday lives.
ANHC's president and CEO, Annette Evans Smith, says Alaska's Native tongues need to be treasured because of what they represent -- not just for now, but for future generations.
"To keep us healthy, to keep us moving forward, they ground us on who we are and where we come from," Smith said. "Alaska Native languages hold the DNA of our cultures, so it's a major and fundamental part of keeping our culture alive and I think our cultures our a life raft to keep us afloat."
According to Smith, language can serve as both a bridge to past traditions and a conduit to keep children connected with their heritage.
"When we know who we are, when we know where we come from, our young people do better, they do better in school, and they do better with life choices," Smith said.
The official Alaska Native language legislation, which was sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), will not require the state or any municipal government to document, record, or conduct any business in any other language than English.
Oil company Hilcorp Alaska will buy BP’s stake in four North Slope oil fields and operate three of them, in a deal announced Tuesday expected to affect about 250 BP employees.
According to a statement from BP the assets involved in the sale, which make up less than 15 percent of BP’s Alaska oil production, are being sold to let the company focus on its Prudhoe Bay operations as well as its stake in liquefied natural gas production.
“The sale agreement includes all of BP’s interests in the Endicott and Northstar oilfields and a 50 percent interest in each of the Liberty and the Milne Point fields,” BP officials wrote. “The sale also includes BP’s interests in the oil and gas pipelines associated with these fields.”
BP, along with ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and TransCanada, is one of four companies named as partners in a bill to build a gas line which passed the state Legislature late Sunday. The company also expects to invest $1 billion over five years as it brings two new Alaska drilling rigs online in 2015 and 2016, projects it expects to create 200 new in-state jobs.
In a Hilcorp statement John Barnes, the company’s senior vice president of exploration and production, hailed the sale as an opportunity to apply its know-how to increasing production from the established fields.
“We are excited about this acquisition. Our ability to bring new life to mature basins is a great fit for these assets,” John Barnes, Senior Vice President of Exploration and Production for Hilcorp.
Hilcorp has been expanding its Alaska presence in recent years, entering high bids on 19 tracts of 29 tracts auctioned off in the state’s 2013 lease sale. The company is also one of three firms listed as top contributors to Vote No on 1, the main oil industry group opposing a ballot initiative to repeal 2013’s Senate Bill 21, Gov. Sean Parnell’s reduction of oil taxes in a bid to stimulate production.
BP says it’s also working on “providing clarity” to the employees affected by Tuesday’s sale.
“The majority of those BP employees at or supporting Milne Point, Endicott and Northstar are expected to be offered positions with Hilcorp with no break in employment,” BP officials wrote.
The transaction, which BP expects to be finalized by the end of the year pending regulatory approval, will be Hilcorp’s third major in-state acquisition since 2012.
Spring has arrived in Anchorage -- along with all of the garbage being uncovered by melting snow.
With Earth Day being marked Tuesday, a team of volunteers did a little spring cleaning along the Campbell Creek Trail, carrying away just about everything trail users may have lost or tossed over the winter.
This is the first time the Earth Day Trail Clean-up has taken place at Campbell Creek.
Dozens of volunteers picked up shovels and trash bags, cleaning up 12 miles of trail in just a few hours.
Eleven of the people helping out on Tuesday were AmeriCorps volunteers with the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association.
In addition to making the trails better looking, federal Bureau of Land Management field manager Douglas Ballou says they’re a lot safer.
“Our goal is to safely go through the woods with these safe tools, and do some brushing and improve the lines of sight -- so that fast-moving recreationalists will have a greater opportunity to avoid bears and moose and other wildlife and have a safer recreational experience,” Ballou said.
AmeriCorps volunteers will be working all summer cleaning trails between Anchorage and Girdwood.
A bible at the front of the sanctuary in First United Methodist Church, next to the park strip in Downtown Anchorage, is still open to Matthew 28 two days after Easter.
The chapter tells the story of an angel warning two women named Mary that Jesus had risen from the grave. The women get the 11 disciples of Christ to head to a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, where Christ urges the group to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Like many churches around town, a larger than usual crowd showed up at First United on Easter to hear the biblical stories and to celebrate the day.
"We had a beautiful service, about 200 people," said Jennifer Miller, the church's administrative assistant. But it seems like someone, maybe one of the people in the crowd that day, was actually just scouting an easy target to burglarize.
Rev. Ronald Myers arrived Monday morning and realized the safe was broken into. All the offerings inside were gone.
"Someone had spent, it must have been hours, stealing all of our Easter offering," Miller said.
The money would have been split between keeping the lights on and various efforts to give back to the community.
The church supports charities around town, including shelters like Brother Francis, Abused Women's Aid in Crisis and Clare House.
To lose what people had given on a day like last Sunday is a significant blow.
"It puts us in a bind," Miller said. "Christmas and Easter are the two biggest offerings a church receives."
The church plans to improve its security measures, and the Anchorage Police Department is investigating the incident.
APD spokesperson Jennifer Castro said no forced entry was found, and no suspect information is available.
A prosecutor concedes he was giving a Juneau woman the "deal of a lifetime" when she was sentenced for a misdemeanor instead of a felony after a pot-grow operation was found in her home.
Juneau District Attorney James Scott calls the circumstances surrounding the prosecution of Bonnie E. Odom as a "one-off."
He said he agreed to a misdemeanor because she didn't have a criminal record and police only found out about the 55 plants because of an unrelated incident that brought police to her home.
The Juneau Empire reports that Alaska law states any more than 25 plants is considered a felony.
Her lawyer says she uses the marijuana for medical purposes. She received a year of probation instead of jail time.
The public will have the first opportunity this weekend to tour a $50 million fish hatchery in Fairbanks.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will open the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery to the public on Friday.
The opening is in conjunction with the opening of the annual Fairbanks Outdoor Show, which also starts Friday at the nearby Carlson Center.
The hatchery will offer visitors the opportunity to see where tens of thousands of fish are grown yearly for sport anglers.
A 5,000-gallon aquarium with hatchery-raised fish inside will greet visitors entering the building.
The hatchery has been open 18 months, but did not have funding to staff the visitors center, which is known as the Tanana Valley Fisheries Center.
A 67-year-old Fairbanks man has been fined $10,000 for helping to shoot an under-size moose and for shipping the antlers out of Alaska.
The U.S. Attorney's office says Leslie Zerbe also was barred in federal magistrate court from hunting for two years.
Prosecutors say Zerbe in 2009 helped a friend from Michigan shoot a bull moose with antlers just more than 42 inches wide in the Ferry Trail Management Area.
Prosecutors say Zerbe had a cabin in the area and knew that moose had to have antlers at least 50 inches wide to be harvested.
Also, the moose had only three brow tines on each side and needed to have four.
Prosecutors say Zerbe shipped the illegally harvested moose antlers to Michigan, which violated the Lacey Act.
[Updated 9:30 am., April 22]
Chugach Electric reports as of 9:20 a.m. crews located and repaired a downed wire in the vicinity of 84th Street & Lake Otis Parkway.
Power has been restored to all customers.
An early Tuesday morning power outage in the South Anchorage has left at least 150 residents without power.
Officials from Chugach Electric confirmed the outage was reported around 4:30 a.m. in the area of 84th Avenue and Lake Otis Parkway.
Officials say crews have been dispatched to the area to investigate the cause of the outage, but cannot confirm how soon power will be restored to affected residents.
Of the known locations being affected by the outage at this time, Chugach Electric has confirmed at least six streets could be experiencing power loss at this time:
Moose Run Circle
Sun Spot Circle
Crescent Moon Place
Officials note while some residents in the affected areas may be experiencing power loss, not all residents may be without power at this time.
A familiar face officially joined the Republican primary race Monday night to decide who will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in the Nov. 4 general election.
Joe Miller kicked off his campaign in Wasilla, adding his name to a GOP list which includes Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan, a former state attorney general and Department of Natural Resources commissioner.
Miller, a conservative Fairbanks lawyer, is familiar to many Alaskans from his 2010 run for Senate. He defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski for the Republican nomination, but lost the general election to her after she mounted a comeback campaign as a write-in candidate; Democratic nominee Scott McAdams came in third.
Introduced to a crowd of more than 100 people by a pastor and a gun rights advocate, and surrounded by his family, Miller says this race will end differently than 2010’s. He says he plans to address many of the same issues he took on during his last campaign.
“I've had enough of this gangster government,” Miller said. “I've had enough of the surveillance state. I've had enough of the tyrannical IRS using its agency to do anything it wants to the likes of us; I'm up to my eyeballs with the EPA.”
Miller, Treadwell and Sullivan are all slated to appear in a Friday debate among GOP Senate nominees, which will air at 7 p.m. on Channel 2.
While the forum is being hosted by the Alaska Press Club and will be moderated by Channel 2's Steve Mac Donald, the questions will come from Alaskans like you. To submit a question for the candidates, either record a YouTube video of yourself asking the question and email a link to email@example.com, or post your question on Twitter with the hashtag Alaska Asks (#akasks).
After weeks of debate and marathon hours over the past few days, state lawmakers still have not reached an agreement on sending money to Alaska's local schools.
Disagreements over Gov. Sean Parnell's education bill are still keeping the House and Senate in Juneau beyond the 90-day session, which was scheduled to end Sunday before it was extended by lawmakers.
While the Senate approved an additional $300 million for local education Monday, it also removed a significant source of education funds from the bill. Although House members had approved a $185 increase in base student allocation, the amount the state gives to school districts each year for every student they educate, the Senate version of the bill would provide its money outside of the BSA.
The House and Senate are done for Monday night, with plans to convene at 11 a.m. Tuesday. In the meantime, a six-person conference committee will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss Parnell’s education bill.
House Speaker Rep. Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) named Reps. Sam Kito III (D-Juneau), Lynn Gattis (R-Wasilla) and Mike Hawker (R-Anchorage) to the joint committee, which also includes Sens. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage), Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) and Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla).
Chenault says the committee's job is to draft an education bill both the House and Senate can agree on.
“I would prefer that we possibly get out of here tomorrow,” Chenault said. “It will be a long day tomorrow if the committee meets, does their work and comes back to the caucuses and explains what's going on.”
According to Chenault, several representatives had problems with the education bill once the Senate removed the House’s $185 BSA increase. He says the new version of the bill could include funding both inside and outside of the BSA.
The Anchorage School Board has unanimously approved a 10 percent increase in activity fees for students, adopting a proposal made earlier this month by Anchorage School District leaders.
Monday night's 7-0 vote leaves the details of ASD’s April 10 plan unchanged, including a $390 per-family cap on activity fees. Increases would include $10 per sport for middle-school students, while high-school students would see a $20 increase per tier -- a boost that could leave them paying from $195 to $215, depending on the activity.
ASD has been battling a $23 million budget shortfall, with its next budget slated to cut some 159 classroom positions across the district.
No public testimony was given on the fee increase at Monday’s school board meeting before its passage.
Channel 2’s Caslon Hatch contributed information to this story.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
The Coast Guard has hoisted three injured crewmen from a Liberian-flagged ship about 200 miles south of Kodiak.
The men were injured when a large wave hit the 587-foot cargo ship Copacabana on Sunday.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said Monday evening that two Jayhawk helicopter crews transported the men to Kodiak to meet commercial medical flight services, which flew the men to medical care in Anchorage.
The ship was about 500 miles south of Kodiak when the wave hit. The men reportedly received multiple injuries, and a Coast Guard flight surgeon recommended they receive a higher level of care than was available on the ship. The ship was told to alter course toward Kodiak for a rendezvous.
A flight surgeon and a health services technician trained in emergency care accompanied the helicopter crews to provide in-flight medical care.
Palmer dispatchers are the voice of help to callers in crisis -- but lately, assistance isn't the only thing dispatchers have delivered.
Since November, Palmer police and fire dispatchers have assisted over the phone in the deliveries of four babies. The most recent delivery took place the morning of April 9, when dispatcher Allie Foley picked up the call.
"It was very quick," Foley said. "I barely had time to get the instructions all out before the baby was born."
Foley walked a soon-to-be grandmother through her daughter-in-law's delivery. Within minutes, a baby boy was born.
"I was actually shaking, I was so excited," Foley said. "I was nervous throughout the whole call, but tried not to let it show in my voice."
Three of her co-workers have been in her shoes. The first dispatcher-aided delivery came in November, followed by two more January. There is now a running joke at Palmer dispatch.
"We are now Palmer labor and delivery," Foley said. "I think it was 2006 since our last baby was born -- and now we've gotten four in the last five months."
The news is spreading through the small community. One local organization sent dispatchers a card, asking if they could hold a diaper drive to collect diapers and supplies for low-income families.
"Because of our success with all of our babies, they thought we'd be a good place to start," Foley said.
The diaper drive will take place from May 1 through May 10. Supplies will be accepted at the Palmer Police Department, at 423 S. Valley Way, as well as at Palmer Fire and Rescue at 645 Cope Industrial Way.