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Traffic Delayed Near Girdwood After Head-On Collision

Travelers along the Seward Highway should expect traffic delays as Alaska State Troopers and emergency responders work to clear the roadway after a head on collision.

Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters said they received a call for a collision near Mile 106 just after 4 p.m. Two vehicles reportedly collided head on, but both drivers refused medical evaluations on scene.

As of 6:30 p.m., traffic was still at a standstill in northbound lanes in the Girdwood area, even so far down the road to Bird.

An investigation into the cause of the wreck is ongoing.

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Bald Eagle Set Free After Rescue From Fire

After working hard to help a bald eagle to recover from burns, volunteers at Bird TLC learned the biggest reward can be letting go.

Sparkie came to the Bird TLC earlier this year with burnt feathers after the young eagle's feathers were singed when it tried to catch rodents fleeing the fire. Even after months in recover, Bird TLC volunteer, Dave Dorsey said this is still a wild animal.

"He knows what he needs to do," Dorsey said. "He just needs a chance to get out and do it."

On Saturday, Dorsey and another volunteer entered Sparkie's cage with blankets to capture the bird one last time.

The young bald eagle is still brown. It's three or four years old. The white feathers bald eagles are known for don't grow in until later in life.

"He's feisty!" the volunteer helping Dorsey said as the two men hold the bird in a blanket.

Sparkie's next step to freedom was being put in a traveling crate. It takes quick, careful coordination to lock him in the crate before shutting the lid. Dorsey loaded his pickup in the parking lot in front of Bird TLC for the drive to Soldotna.

In Soldotna, a crowd gathered to watch the bird released back in to the wild.

"We like to return the birds to that area {Soldotna} to replenish what was brought out of there," Dorsey said.

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'Regulate Marijuana' Campaign Sends Official Complaint to Opponents

Though the election is months away, political campaigns are already heating up.

Recently the marijuana legalization debate took a turn when last week the "regulate Marijuana Campaign" started the process of filing an official complaint against the "Vote no on 2 Campaign. The complaint stems from a seemingly benign personal description.

Kristina Woolston often describes herself as a "volunteer spokesperson" for the 'Vote No on 2' campaign - that's the fight against the legalization of recreational marijuana in Alaska. Opponents who are working to legalize marijuana say if Woolston is a volunteer, that's a violation of rules set by APOC the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

In a letter to the APOC, the Regulate Marijuana campaign's treasurer, Chris Rempert accused Northwest Strategies of "violation and (possibly willful) deception of public trust. It claims that because Woolston is part owner of Northwest Strategies, she's either not properly accounting for her volunteer hours, or giving the campaign an unfair discount.

In an interview, Rempert said Friday, "If Kristina truly is a volunteer, then she is the most expensive volunteer in history."

In a written response to the accusation, 'Vote No on 2' said, "Kristina misspoke on one occasion and will clarify with APOC." The statement goes on to say that Woolston did *not conceal her ownership in northwest strategies - and claims compliance with all APOC rules.

In a phone conversation with Channel 2 News, an APOC spokesperson says the regulatory body can't comment on this specific case before it has reviewed all the details.

APOC rules are less stringent in some cases for a ballot initiative campaign as opposed to a political candidate's campaign. While the two groups may have differing interpretations of APOC law, both agree the APOC complaint moves the conversation away from marijuana.

'Vote No on 2''s statement said, "This is a distraction to divert attention from the severe damage this initiative will do to Alaska." Rempert argues calling it a distraction furthers the other sides agenda,

"By saying everything we do is a distraction," Rempert said. "Is to distract the Alaskan voters from the truth of this ballot measure."

The debate highlights the extreme tension between the two camps - both looking to voters for clarity in November - on a divisive issue that affects the state.

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Playground Fire Under Investigation

A large plume of black smoke may have been noticed by some Anchorage residents Saturday afternoon, the source of which was a local elementary school playground. 

Fire fighters from Station 5 responded to reports of a playground fire at Willow Crest Elementary School shortly after 12 p.m. No children were believed to be at the playground during the fire, and no injuries have been reported.

The fire covered a 150 foot by 100 foot section of the playground, which was comprised of rubberized material. According to Fire Captain Zack Westin, the material is highly flammable.

"It's a great thing for parents to always remind their kids about playing with fire," Westin said. "You know, this material is nice and soft and great for running around, but kids light a little piece on fire and it can be a really bad thing." 

Fire officials say an investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, and that security footage from the school may be able to provide evidence. 

KTUU's Lacie Grosvold contributed to this story.

This is an ongoing story, please check back for updates.

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Alaska Woman Indicted on Charges in Prostitution Ring Case

An Alaska woman has been indicted on several charges relating to a prostitution ring prosecutors says she supervised and profited from.

Amber Batts, 39, was arrested July 9 in connection to an investigation into the website "Alaska Naughty Maids". Charges filed by the prosecution point to Batts as the facilitator of prostitution through the website in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, and Juneau, and an allocation of the profits benefited Batts directly.

While the website displays a "For Sale" sign, Assistant Attorney General Adam Alexander says it once held advertising for escort services and "providers" in Alaska, a blog describing the history of the business, and even a store with products for the encounters. 

“The banner page of the website advertises ‘Half hours $200,’ ‘Hours $300,’ and ‘doubles’ for $650 an hour," Alexander wrote. “The FAQ section of the website also contains a ‘Newbies Guide to Etiquette,’ where potential clients are advised to have cash ‘readily available and in clear view at the beginning of the session. The same section states ‘Whatever you do, don’t ask ‘So what am I getting for this?’ She’ll think you are a cop and are wired to record her responses.’”

Charges against Batts include  three counts of sex trafficking in the second degree and four counts of sex trafficking in the third. Batts is being held on a $15,000 bail. 

KTUU's Chris Klint contributed to this story.

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'Dollars For Dogs' Receives Large Donation for APD K-9s

The Anchorage Police Department's K-9s were shown some love recently, to the tune of $10,000, thanks to an anonymous donation matched by BP. 

On Tuesday, APD K-9 Supervisor Sgt. Jason Schmidt and Dollars for Dogs President John Spalding accepted the large check, which will benefit the APD K-9 Unit, and may lead to the purchase of a new police dog. According to the release, an anonymous donor from BP donated $5,000, which BP matched dollar for dollar. 

"A heartfelt thank you goes out to this anonymous donor, BP and all who have donated to Dollars for Dogs throughout the years," the release said. "Without your generous contributions, the APD K-9 Unit wouldn’t be the same."

Dollars for Dogs is a non-profit organization that raises funds for the Anchorage K-9 team. According to their website, funds are used for the purchase and training of police dogs, supplying equipment for dogs and handlers, and traveling expenses for police events.

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Anchorage Psychiatrist Faces Additional Charges in Fraud Case

A grand jury handed down more than 30 charges in a case against an Anchorage psychiatrist accused of fraud, tampering with evidence, and misconduct involving a controlled substance.

The Department of Law's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit announced the additional charges Friday following the indictment of 39-year-old Dr. Shubhranjan Ghosh, founder of Ghosh Psychiatric Services.  Ghosh was arrested in April and was released after paying a $200,000 cash bail, surrendering his passport, and complying with electronic monitoring requirements handed down as a condition of release.

The investigation into Ghosh began after an employee allegedly noticed charges for the treatment of patients that did not actually occur. According to investigators, Ghosh billed Medicaid for psychiatric services rendered to patients who were not actually treated by Ghosh, and in some cases, while Ghosh was out of the state travelling. 

Ghosh will be arraigned on Monday, June 28, on 18 felony charges of medicaid fraud and tampering with physical evidence, and 15 misdemeanor counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance. 

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Judge: Bearded Seals Not a Threatened Species

A federal judge in Alaska has ruled that a federal agency improperly listed bearded seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Judge Ralph Beistline in Fairbanks says the decision by the National Marine Fisheries Services was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion."

The state, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the North Slope Borough sued after the agency added bearded seals and ringed seals in the Arctic Ocean to the threatened list in December 2012. Polar bears also are listed because of a loss of sea ice.

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty says the listing "was based solely on speculative 100-year projections that lacked any credible scientific evidence."

Fisheries officials didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

The state didn't challenge the listing for ringed seals.

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Will Feds Allow Arctic Offshore Drilling?

A federal agency is testing the waters on a possible new lease sale in the Alaska Arctic.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to take comments on areas in the Beaufort Sea that have the most promising oil and gas potential. The agency says it also wants to learn more about environmentally sensitive habitats and subsistence activities within the planning area.

Spokesman John Callahan says this is the first step in a long process, and no decision has been made on whether to go ahead with a lease sale.

The executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League says her group does not want to see more drilling in the Beaufort, citing the uncertainty of the arctic climate and lack of scientific information about the Arctic Ocean.

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APD Responds to SUV Rollover off Glenn Highway at Muldoon Road

Anchorage police are responding to a single-vehicle rollover crash with injuries off the Glenn Highway southbound at Muldoon Road Friday afternoon. According to APD spokesperson Dani Myren, police and medics were called to the Glenn’s offramp onto Muldoon just after 12:50 p.m., after a red Ford Explorer reportedly left the roadway. “(Call) comments indicate a vehicle in the wooded portion of the offramp,” Myren said.

Officers at the scene say the vehicle's driver and sole occupant was an elderly woman, who was entrapped in the vehicle and subsequently taken to the hospital in serious condition. Myren says police are closing the offramp, and asks drivers to avoid the area if possible. “I would expect delays,” Myren said. Channel 2's Rick Schleyer contributed information to this story.

This is a developing story. Please check and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.

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Alaska Supreme Court Allows Death Benefits for Same-Sex Partners

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state commission’s denial of death benefits to the same-sex partner of an Anchorage hotel manager slain nearly three years ago on the basis of a same-sex marriage ban, saying it violated the Alaska Constitution. Deborah Harris had requested death benefits from the Millennium Alaskan Hotel after her longtime partner, Kerry Fadely, was shot to death on Oct. 29, 2011. Former hotel employee Javier Martinez, who faces a first-degree state murder charge in Fadely’s death, has been sentenced to 65 years on separate federal immigration charges. Both the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission denied Harris’s request, citing the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Harris appealed the appeals board decision to the state’s highest court, arguing that the denial of Fadely’s death benefits was discriminatory because she and Fadely would have gotten married if they could do so under state law. In its unanimous 17-page Friday ruling (PDF), the court’s five justices agreed with Harris’s position, saying that the same-sex marriage ban passed by Alaska voters in 1998 did not preclude the awarding of benefits to same-sex couples. It also found that language in the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act, which grants death benefits to widows and widowers, was discriminatory. The court likens its decision to that in State v. Schmidt, where justices overturned a state law which granted property-tax exemptions to only married couples. “Like the tax-exemption statute in Schmidt, the workers’ compensation statute creates a classification between married and unmarried couples,” the court wrote. “And, as in Schmidt, the statute and Marriage Amendment together prevent same-sex couples from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits to the same extent as married couples because same-sex couples are precluded from marrying in Alaska or having their out-of-state marriages recognized.” The decision vacates the commission’s ruling, remanding the matter of Fadely’s death benefits to the body for “further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” In a statement from Lambda Legal, a legal rights organization for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered rights, Harris’s co-counsel Eric Croft hailed Friday’s decision. “Today’s ruling is an important step in the right direction for same-sex couples in Alaska,” Croft said in the statement. “The state made an already tragic situation that much more devastating for Debbie. In an instant, her life crumbled around her. This ruling is the first step in allowing Debbie to begin to rebuild her life and in protecting all Alaskan same-sex couples and their families.”

Attorneys for the Millennium Alaskan Hotel declined comment on the decision Friday. This is a developing story. Please check and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.

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Owners of Seized Togiak Bay Fishing Vessels Fined Nearly $90K

The owners of six fishing vessels seized in Togiak Bay for illegal salmon fishing this month have been fined a total of almost $90,000, with Alaska Wildlife Troopers seizing nearly 35,000 pounds of fish. On Wednesday, troopers said they made the seizures earlier this month, in response to tips that the vessels had been fishing outside legal boundaries of the Togiak Bay commercial salmon fishing district. According to Dillingham District Court documents, the Togiak men who own the seized vessels all entered guilty pleas to misdemeanor fishing charges. They include Rodney Gosuk of the 5 G’s, 39; Anthony Poulsen of the Skammin, 46; Alvaro Sutton of the Kalena Annielyse, 35; Kevin Harless of the Good Deal, 52; William Byayuk of the Inuli, 22; and Leroy Fox of the Hammer Time, 54. Fish seizures ranged from 3,736 pounds aboard the Inuli to 10,193 pounds aboard the Hammer Time. Each of the owners was fined $15,000, with $3,000 of Sutton’s fine suspended. All six received jail sentences ranging from 30 to 365 days, with almost all of the time suspended; only Gosuk and Poulsen will spend time behind bars, with each ordered to serve five days. AST spokesperson Megan Peters says that while the seized vessels may be returned to their owners, the proceeds of their catch have already been forfeited. “When they pay their fine, they get their boat back,” Peters said. “The fish are dead, so they’re still processed; the funds from the fish are turned over to the state.” All of the vessels’ owners will spend three years of probation, with Gosuk and Poulsen receiving five-year probation terms. Court records list misdemeanor cases against three other people charged during the seizures, including Skammin permit holder Norma Ayojiak, Skammin crewman Michael Poulsen and Hammer Time permit holder Will Fox, as still open.

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Injured Washington Hiker Rescued After Fall near Whittier

A Washington man was rescued Thursday night from a trail near Whittier, after Alaska State Troopers say he survived a steep fall and was carried to safety by responders. In a Friday AST dispatch, troopers say they got a report just before 7:30 p.m. Thursday that the man, later identified as 32-year-old Michael Rumberg, needed help. “Whittier (emergency medical services) and the Whittier Police Department responded to the area and located the injured hiker approximately 1 mile from a trailhead in steep terrain,” troopers wrote. “The Girdwood Fire Department and the Alaska State Troopers responded to Whittier to assist in removing the male from the trail system.” AST spokesperson Megan Peters says Rumberg was evacuated from the site of the fall shortly after 9:30 p.m. “He fell approximately 40 feet,” Peters said. According to Peters, Rumberg’s family confirmed his location to troopers as a series of agencies responded to the area, as well as medics with LifeMed Alaska. “We got this report from LifeMed,” Peters said. “They were contacted by Whittier PD and EMS, then they contacted us.” Peters says Rumberg was ultimately taken to Anchorage in a Girdwood Fire Department ambulance for treatment of his injuries. Providence Alaska Medical Center staff say he is listed Friday in fair condition.

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Measure Would Close Bars Earlier in Denali Borough

The son of a woman killed by a suspected drunken driver as she pedaled her way to work early one morning wants bars in the Denali Borough to close earlier. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Noah Schieber has started an online petition to have the bars close at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. His mother, Gitte Stryhn, was struck and killed by a vehicle last month in Healy as she was riding her bicycle to work as a bus driver into Denali National Park. The man Alaska State Troopers say hit Stryhn and drove away, 30-year-old Dustin Dollarhide, was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and failure to render assistance. Assembly member Kimber Burrows will introduce the ordinance, likely at the next meeting. She acknowledges it won't solve the problem of drinking and driving, but it's a step. An information meeting is planned Aug. 2 at the Tri-Valley Community Center.

Channel 2's Austin Baird contributed information to this story.

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Sitka Airport Work Reducing Appeal to Birds

A wildlife expert says last year's improvements at Sitka's airport are helping to reduce the risk of collisions between birds and planes. The Daily Sitka Sentinel reports that David Tresham told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that grass sections of an infield near the runway were filled with gravel, and that has made a difference. Before, the area would fill with water, attracting birds. Tresham is a wildlife specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is managing wildlife threats to planes that use Sitka's airport. Bird strikes are a big concern there. An Alaska Airlines jet hit an eagle on takeoff in 2010 and had to abort the flight. Tresham says birds remain a concern, but workers have done a good job identifying potential problems.

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Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to See Repair Closures

A 7-mile stretch of Anchorage's popular coastal trail will be closed eight hours a day for repairs most of next week. The southern section of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail will be closed between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. starting Tuesday and continuing through Friday. Officials say the trail will be open during other hours to accommodate bike commuters and others who want to use the entire trail. The work is set to take place between the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility at Hutson Drive and the Sisson Bridge to the south. Officials say there will be no available detour route to or from Kincaid Park because of the trail's isolation. The work is part of the city's trail improvement projects. Last year, some of the coastal trail was resurfaced.

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Parnell Asks USDA to Buy Surplus Canned Pink Salmon

Gov. Sean Parnell has asked a federal agency to buy $37 million of canned pink salmon to ease a glut weighing down prices for Alaska fishermen. Parnell made the request to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He asked that USDA make the purchase under a federal law that allows for buying surplus foods from farmers and donating them to food banks or other programs. The USDA made a similar, smaller purchase of salmon earlier this year after a request from Sen. Lisa Murkowski to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, paying about $20 million for roughly 5,000 tons of salmon. But Parnell said remaining unsold inventories are driving prices to levels that threaten harvest activity this year and next. He said the price of canned pink salmon is 23 percent lower than a year ago and the advance price paid to fishermen is down about 33 percent from last year.

Channel 2's Chris Klint contributed information to this story.

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Woman Charged with DUI in Crash That Ejected Passenger, Dog

The Juneau woman Alaska State Troopers say was at the wheel in a Wednesday crash on the Parks Highway that ejected and seriously injured a passenger has been charged with driving under the influence. According to a Thursday AST dispatch, troopers received a report under the Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately program at about 4:50 p.m. They later identified the driver as 38-year-old Trisha A. Corser. “While troopers were responding the suspect vehicle, a red Jeep Cherokee, collided with a guardrail near Mile 133,” troopers wrote. “Investigation revealed (Corser) was operating the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and without a valid driver's license. Corser's male passenger and dog were ejected from the rear of the vehicle.” The dog wasn’t injured, but troopers say the passenger was flown by a LifeMed air ambulance to an Anchorage hospital for treatment. AST spokesperson Megan Peters had said Wednesday that troopers’ response to the crash was slowing traffic. After being medically cleared, Corser was charged with DUI, as well as third-degree domestic-violence assault and driving without a valid license. She was held at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility without bail.

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Quakes Shake Southeast Alaska near Juneau

Two quakes occurred in the same location early Friday in southeast Alaska, and the U. S. Geological Survey reports weak or light shaking was felt around Juneau, about 100 miles to the east. There are no reports of damage. The USGS recorded a magnitude 5.9 quake at 2:54 a.m. and a 4.7 quake at 3:19 a.m. about 50 miles west of Gustavus and 90 miles southwest of Haines. Both were about 6 miles deep.

Residents in Juneau Friday morning told a Channel 2 reporter they could hear buildings shaking during the quakes. The National Weather Service said no tsunami was expected.

Channel 2's Adam Pinsker contributed information to this story.

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Sow Shot Dead After Attacking Eagle River Man

An Eagle River man walked away from a bear attack by fending it off with a gun, according to state wildlife officials.

Around 1 p.m. Thursday the unidentified man was walking along Eagle River Trail, a private road leading to his home, when his dogs sprinted ahead out of sight.

Moments later the dogs came rushing back with a brown bear sow and a cub on their heels.

The bear turned attention away from the canines to the man, chomping his upper arm and hand, but he was able to draw his handgun and fired three rounds into the bear.

His injuries were minor enough that he declined ambulance service and instead was driven to the hospital by his wife, according to Chugach State Park Ranger Tom Crockett, and the bear was found dead by a group of wildlife officials.

While this incident ended without debilitating injuries or loss of life, Crockett said it serves as a reminder for people who frequent the area.

"Be ready for an encounter, be ready to retreat, be ready to stand your ground, whatever the occasion calls for," Crockett said.

Above is a photo of the bear killed by a man defending himself. Wildlife officials say the sow was a relatively small 200 pounds.

Part of what contributed to this incident was the loose dogs, according to Jessy Coltrane, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

While dogs can help keep bears away by barking and alerting their owners when danger is near, Coltrane said it all depends on how a dog acts if it comes across a bear.

"The biggest risk with a dog is if they run ahead and provoke a bear then very often as soon as they feel threatened they run back to you, because they feel safe with you," Coltrane said. "So they bring the bears back."

With fish currently running in a nearby scenic stream that often draws hikers, Crockett said it is important to remember the basics: make noise, travel in groups, pay close attention when in bear country.

Berry patches, bear scat, kill sites and anything else that suggests a bear may be near are the biggest red flags, Crockett said.

The attack is the second in the area in less than a week.

Sgt. Lucas Wendeborn of the Alaska Army National Guard was mauled by a brown bear Sunday during a training exercise on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. He is expected to survive his injuries.

Channel 2's Mallory Peebles contributed to this story



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