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Alaskans incensed by letters publishing their voting records


A series of letters from a shadowy group is telling Alaskans’ friends and neighbors whether they voted in previous elections -- and threatening to release their voting records in the Nov. 4 general elections. In letters photographed by Channel 2 viewers who received them, the Alaska State Voter Program lists 10 friends and neighbors, along with their home addresses and whether -- but not how -- they voted in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections. At least one person reported subsequently receiving an email from the group containing the text of the mailed letter. An introduction in the letters rhetorically asks why people don’t vote, then poses the group’s solution to the issue. The language is mirrored on the group's website, which allows people to generate a list similar to those in the letters by entering their name and mailing address or their Facebook account. “This year, we’re taking a new approach,” ASVP members wrote. “We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work, and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote.” USA Today said in a 2012 story that using shame as a targeted get-out-the-vote tactic has been popular on both sides of the aisle, with conservatives at the group Americans for Limited Government sending voters in 19 states nearly 3 million letters that year similar to those received in Alaska. The liberal group MoveOn.org sent postcards to 12 million “potential progressive voters,” estimating how often they voted relative to their neighbors but not disclosing those neighbors’ voting records. Channel 2 viewers have uniformly condemned the Alaska mailings as an unwarranted intrusion on their privacy, with one saying a friend who received a copy of the letter at his Wasilla home did not respond well. “He and his wife are furious because the letter lists names and addresses of their neighbors and what years they voted -- which means their names are probably on a letter in other people's households,” the viewer wrote. “These types of shaming and bullying tactics are unacceptable and they cross the line.” A second viewer pointed out the possibility of information from the letters enabling criminal activity. “We recently had ID theft and the last thing we want to publicize is where we live,” the viewer wrote. “I wonder how many people are outraged like us.” A third viewer said the mailings represent a threat to Alaska-based service members’ operational and personal security. “How is this even okay to send out people’s names and addresses?” the viewer wrote. “What about the military families in this state who are trying to maintain proper OPSEC and PERSEC, who just had their names and addresses sent out to random other people?” Gail Fenumiai, the director of the state Division of Elections, said Saturday that the Alaska State Voter Program is not affiliated with the State of Alaska, despite a round logo in its letterhead which loosely remembles a state seal. “People are thinking it’s coming from us, and it’s not,” Fenumiai said. “It’s been very disconcerting and disturbing to voters.” According to Fenumiai, the letters are based on a state voter list which tracks whether voters participated in elections over the last 10 years. Under state law, the document is publicly available for $20 in print or $21 electronically. “The state voter list is a public list, and there are no limitations on what can be done with the list once it is purchased,” Fenumiai said. “That said, we think it’s unfortunate that it’s being used in this way.” Despite angry reports of the letters coming in to the Division of Elections, Fenumiai said the power to regulate use of the state voter list ultimately lies with the state Legislature. “If people are unhappy with the list being used in this way, they should contact their state representatives and senators,” Fenumiai said. While ASVP isn’t registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission according to Fenumiai, she said the interstate nature of its PAC would leave it covered by the Federal Election Commission. State officials have been unable to uncover much more about the nature and origins of the group, she said. An attribution at the bottom of the letters says they are paid for by the Opportunity Alliance PAC, a political action committee associated with the Republican-affiliated American Opportunity Alliance. The alliance’s website doesn’t list a page for Alaska, but includes links to an attack ad against U.S. Senate incumbent Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), as well as endorsements of Republicans Joni Ernst in an Iowa U.S. Senate race and Martha McSally for an Arizona U.S. House seat.

A February article in Politico tracks the American Opportunity Alliance to New York billionaire Paul Singer, whom the publication describes as a “good GOP soldier” despite a stance in favor of same-sex marriage which puts him at odds with elements of the party. The Washington Post reports that Singer threw an event that raised $600,000 last year to benefit Dan Sullivan, Sen. Mark Begich’s challenger in this year’s Senate race, as well as two other candidates.

ASVP’s envelopes list an Anchorage return address of 3700 Arctic Blvd. #497. That address leads to a mailbox at The Mail Cache, a FedEx Office and UPS store in Midtown. The store was closed when a Channel 2 crew visited Saturday afternoon. The group’s letter includes a column of question marks next to voters’ names for the Nov. 4 elections -- one it promises to fill in later. “After the November 4th election, we intend to mail an updated chart,” the letter’s authors wrote. “You and your friends, your neighbors, and other people you know will all know who voted and who did not vote.” The mailings may backfire, however, judging by the reaction to that threat by the viewer whose friends received the Wasilla letter. “This letter is just one more reason why this has been the most distasteful political campaign season ever,” the viewer wrote. Editor’s note: The names of Channel 2 viewers who received letters have been omitted from this story to protect their privacy.

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Ex-Fairbanks priest indicted for child pornography


A former Fairbanks priest has been indicted for allegedly attempting to produce child pornography. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported a federal grand jury indicted Clint Landry on one count of attempted production of child pornography and one count of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. Landry pleaded not guilty to both counts on Friday. The 57-year-old former Sacred Heart Cathedral priest allegedly attempted the acts on May 18 and 19. The Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks placed him on leave that week. Charging documents don't specify the age of the victim or the specific actions Landry is accused of committing. Diocese Human Resources Director Ronnie Rosenberg says staff called Alaska State Troopers after receiving a report of misconduct by Landry. The troopers passed the case to the FBI.

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AFD crews extinguish chimney fire at Rabbit Creeek home


Anchorage fire crews responded to a chimney fire at a Rabbit Creek residence early Saturday evening. According to Anchorage Fire Department dispatchers, the blaze on the 4800 block of Natrona Avenue was first reported to crews at about 5:15 p.m. Arriving crews soon discovered they were dealing with a chimney fire, with firefighters remaining after the fire was under control to clean and secure the scene. An AFD fire captain says homeowners should be sure their chimneys have been cleaned before using their fireplaces. Channel 2’s Amberia Hill and Kenny Knutson contributed information to this story.

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1 dead, 3 injured in Steese Highway head-on crash


One person died and three others were injured in a head-on Steese Highway collision near Fairbanks Friday evening, according to the Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers first learned of a wreck, near the highway’s intersection with Hagelbarger Road, at about 7:15 p.m. Friday.

Details of what caused the crash remain unclear, but a trooper dispatch says the driver and sole occupant of one vehicle, 51-year-old James Wilder, died from his injuries.

38-year-old Michael Walker was driving the other vehicle with two passengers, and all occupants were taken to a hospital to be treated for injuries that are not considered life-threatening.

Both drivers are from Fairbanks.

Next-of-kin has been notified.

Troopers temporarily closed the highway’s northbound lanes during their response to the wreck, advising drivers to take a detour on the Old Steese Highway.

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U.S. to recognize same-sex marriage in 6 new states


The federal government is recognizing gay marriage in six more states, extending federal benefits to those couples. Attorney General Eric Holder says the states are: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Saturday's announcement brings the total number of states with federal recognition of same-sex marriage to 32, plus the District of Columbia. Couples married in these states will qualify for a range of federal benefits, including Social Security and veterans' benefits. Holder says the Justice Department also has determined that it can legally recognize gay marriages performed in Indiana and Wisconsin after federal courts declared state marriage bans unconstitutional. Subsequent developments created confusion about the status of those unions, but Holder says the federal government will recognize the marriages.

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Alaska veterans getting help they need


The event connects veterans with the services they need, such as the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and other agencies so they can begin the process of moving into permanent housing.

"We'd love to say that we don't have to do this because there's not a need," said Stand Down organizer Shawn Duthie. "That's our ultimate goal, but until that time around, our plans are to be here."

This is the 22nd year of the Alaska event.

Organizers said that while the event is only one day, they hope vets can make contacts and get paperwork started that will help them in the future.

Army vet Larry Cariker said he came to Alaska from Oklahoma looking for work. He said he has a job but still is not in permanent housing, and that's why he came to the event.

"I'm finding out more things I need to know toward getting my housing done," said Cariker. "It kind of drives you a little crazy when you don't have your own place to live for a little while. Then you finally start accomplishing things and it starts to make you feel better."

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Vandals target East Anchorage mailboxes


Residents of the Cheney Lake neighborhood awoke Friday to find several mailboxes had been destroyed. 

In this story: 

-- Residents say vandals have targeted the northeast Anchorage neighborhood for the past year. 

-- A truck was seen or heard speeding through the area just before 3 a.m. 

-- "This is about the third our fourth time this has happened," said resident Dave Nowak.

Police did not return calls asking for information about the vandalism. 

GALLERY

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One same-sex couple closer to adoption after gay marriage ban ends


Same-sex marriage is now opening doors to things many gay couples feared would always be difficult or even impossible.

For one Anchorage couple, adopting as a legal spouse under Alaska law could save tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and other costs. 

"Prior to two Sundays ago, I was just a stranger adopting a child like someone getting someone from an orphanage," Jennifer Theulen said.

Theulen filed her adoption paperwork at Nesbett courthouse Thursday morning.

"Originally, we were doing a second-parent adoption, which requires a home study and a number of other intrusive things and a lawyer and such and a social worker, but since Alaska is recognizing Nicole and I as a married couple I was able to apply," Theulen said. "I am now able to apply for a step-parent adoption."

It's a process that is now easier on her wallet.

"It's $75 compared to four to $5,000," Theulen said.

Applying as a step-parent also means Theulen won't have to go through another round of intrusive questions from a social worker as she had to do when she was applying as a second parent. "What that entailed was a case manager coming over to our house and asking me about every detail of my life form my past relationships to how much money was in my bank account," Theulen said."It kind of left us feeling powerless because we weren't sure what the summary would look like at the end."

Jennifer and Nicole Carrier-Theulen got married in Seattle last year and decided to start a family soon after.

Nicole carried Maxwell to term and gave birth four months ago, but a birth certificate became a complicated process.

"They said, ;The state doesn't recognize your marriage so, to us, you're not actually married,' so I had to resubmit an application saying that I wasn't married," Carrier-Theulen said.

While Jennifer said there's no question she's one of Max's mothers, she's committed to making sure everyone knows that on paper, especially because she's in the National Guard.

"I've been deployed twice. If I deploy again for the third time, he gets no benefits if anything happens to me," Theulen said. "He's not counted as my dependent, Social Security, and survivor benefits that don't count."

While all she can do for now is wait and continue her daily routine, it's a process Jennifer said is well worth it so that she no longer feels like a stranger to her son.

The state of Alaska is currently attempted to appeal a decision by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed legal, same-sex marriage in the state.

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Alcohol advertising near AFN prompts complaints


Fostering healthy communities has been a regular theme of the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. Health associations set up booths with literature on substance abuse, and all official AFN events are sober. If anyone shows up under the influence, that person is escorted out.

So a banner advertising drink specials alongside the AFN logo attracted attention on Thursday, when it was up at McGinley’s Pub in sight of the convention entrance.

“It’s literally across the street where everyone is going in and out of the door to come in here and conduct the business at hand,” say Liz Medicine Crow, who is attending the convention, and she takes issue with the sign beyond the unauthorized use of the AFN logo. The banner read “A Jack in the hand is worth two in the Busch” to advertise whiskey and the Busch brand of beer, while punning on the term “Bush Alaska.”

Medicine Crow says the advertising is in conflict with the spirit of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

“People are really disgusted,” says Medicine Crow. “I’ve heard that people are hurt. I’ve heard that people think that it’s 100 percent inappropriate. I also hear that people are not surprised, because the welcome from this place of Anchorage is just not as warm as it could be considering how much money comes into this town and how many people are utilizing the services here.”

The banner took on added significance because of McGinley’s affiliation with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Sullivan includes his status as a founding partner of the bar in his official biography, and a 2012 financial disclosure — his most recent completed filing available on the Alaska Public Offices Commission website — lists income from the establishment. Sullivan delivered welcome remarks to AFN on Thursday morning, and is running as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. He did not return a message left on his cell phone asking about the banner.

But employees of McGinley’s Pub explained that the sign was actually the work of their beverage suppliers. Bar manager Denise Bostedt said that the sign was produced and installed by K&L Distributors, and that no one from McGinley’s was involved in its design.

“I can promise from the bottom of my heart that we never meant to insult anybody,” said Bostedt. “We love when AFN comes to town.”

A spokesperson for AFN confirmed that use of their logo was unauthorized, and that they received “many” complaints about the banner through the day. After representatives from AFN contacted McGinley’s about the sign, the pub covered up the logo with three sheets of white paper but left the sign up, with the rest visible. When approached by a reporter with questions about the sign on Thursday night, they took it down entirely.

This story originally appeared on alaskapublic.org. 

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Paper lantern launch causes disruption


Officials at an Anchorage air field had to briefly reroute traffic follow the release of paper lanterns during an interfaith event in the area.

The lantern release, during an event in support of victims of domestic violence, came as a surprise to Anchorage police, who said lanterns appeared in the path of airplane traffic at Merrill Field on Thursday night.

Sgt. Shaun Henry told the Alaska Dispatch News police received calls about rerouted planes and a lantern landing on a vehicle. No injuries or accidents were reported.

A police spokeswoman said no citations were issued.

Jenny Michaelson, with the Archdiocese of Anchorage, said the launch was meant as part of a positive community event. She said no harm was meant.

On Friday, the Anchorage Fire Department warned the lanterns pose a serious wildlife risk and asked people to report illegal use of the devices. 

The full AFD statement:

Yesterday, an Anchorage based organization launched dozens of “sky lanterns” over the Anchorage area in a well-intentioned effort to bring attention to their cause. Sky lanterns are paper balloons that have a heat source under the balloon that provides lift, essentially a “lightweight” hot air balloon. Sky lanterns may land when the flame is still active, making them a significant fire hazard. If the balloon is tilted by the wind or by hitting some object upon descent, such as a spruce tree or a building, it may catch fire, providing an ignition source to a structure or forested lands.

These devices are unlawful in Alaska by both state statute and local ordinance in Anchorage. Additionally, after the balloon lands, the leftover thin wire frame will rust away very slowly, remaining a hazard to wildlife or pets that may ingest it or become entangled by the wire.  

We are asking the public for assistance in reporting the unlawful use of these devices. Anyone with information about individuals using these devices is asked to contact the AFD fire investigator by calling 267-4900 or by calling the Arson Hotline at 267-5060.  If you wish to remain anonymous, please contact crime stoppers hotline at 561-S-T-O-P (561-7867).

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At AFN, Don Young apologizes for controversial remarks on suicide


U.S. Rep. Don Young apologized Friday to delegates at the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives for a controversial statements he made about suicide to Wasilla High School students.

The suicide rate in Alaska is twice the national average. On Tuesday, Young told students at a school reeling from the recent suicide of a classmate that sometimes friends and family are at fault when a person kills themselves. Young stood by the statement the following day at a campaign event.

The remarks drew a sharp rebuke from other members of Alaska's congressional delegation Thursday night. Sen. Lisa Murkowski called on Young to apologize. Sen. Mark Begich, labeled the statement "uninformed and inappropriate."

Speaking at an already scheduled appearance at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in downtown Anchorage, Young apologized for the remarks.

"My heart and soul are in rural Alaska," Young said.

"The last four days have been tough for me," he told the crowd.

Young's opponent in the Nov. 4 election, Forrest Dunbar, told KTUU that Young's speech appeared heartfelt.

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Alaska Bites: How to make a PB&J, by a 6-year-old


Feel like keeping it simple this weekend? In this addition of Alaska Bites, we asked 6-year-old Maggie Metcalfe for advice on making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In this story:

-- Maggie eats at least 10 PB&Js a week.

-- The key is putting the jelly on first.

-- The best type of jelly is raspberry. Cherry rhubarb jam and raspberry jam do NOT taste good together. 

Send suggestions for chefs, dishes and Alaska culinary trends to Rebecca Palsha at rpalsha@ktuu.com.

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Closures of Sears stores nationwide will not include Alaska, company says


The Sears department store that has long been the flagship tenant of the Mall at Sears in Midtown Anchorage will remain open despite widespread Sears closures planned across the country, mall officials say.

The 600 E. Northern Lights Boulevard Sears will lease 40,000 square feet however, to make room for Alaska's first Nordstrom Rack in fall 2015.

Sears Holdings Corp. plans to shutter more than 100 Kmarts, Sears and Sears Auto Center locations before the end of January, according to the financial news tracker Seeking Alpha.

The closure did not include any Alaska locations and a Sears official tells Channel 2 no Alaska stores will be impacted.

Sears has since disputed the precise number and location of closures. The news raised questions about the future of the Sears location in Anchorage including the Midtown store where the surrounding mall has been busy in recent years welcoming new tenants like SteamDot coffee and changing its look. 

“No Sears or Kmart stores in Alaska are impacted. They will remain open to the public,” said Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications at Sears Holdings, in an email to Channel 2 Friday.

That includes stores in Wasilla, Fairbanks and Juneau.  

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US, Canada monitor barge adrift off Arctic Slope


JUNEAU -- U.S. and Canadian authorities are monitoring a barge carrying nearly 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel that's drifting in the Beaufort Sea.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday the 134-foot barge broke free from its tow in Canadian waters during a severe storm earlier this week.

Canadian aircraft located the barge drifting west in U.S. waters. The U.S. Coast Guard says it will deploy aircraft to the Arctic Slope from Air Station Kodiak to continue tracking the ship.

The fuel tanks on board appear to be intact and don't show signs of discharge.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the area is experiencing 40 mph winds and 12-foot seas.

Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard personnel are developing a response plan with the barge's owner, Northern Transportation Corp.

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PHOTOS: Alaskans capture solar eclipse on camera


Maybe your mother told you it's not polite to stare.

It wasn't safe either, NASA said, for those who looked at Thursday's partial solar eclipse.

"Even at maximum eclipse, a sliver of sun peeking out from behind the Moon can still cause pain and eye damage. Direct viewing should only be attempted with the aid of a safe solar filter," NASA said.

The show in the sky reached its height at 1:45 p.m. Alaska time, NASA said, meaning the eastern half of the country should have gotten a view before the backdrop of golden twilight hues.

The moon clipped the sun and should have made it look like a fingernail as it set in the west for most of the country and Alaska.

People living in the Central Time Zone had the best view, NASA said. New England and Hawaii will miss out on this one.

The next solar eclipse over North America will occur in about three years -- and it will be a more dramatic and rare total eclipse.

Did you watch the eclipse in Alaska? If you captured photos of the event, be sure to share them by emailing web@ktuu.com. Thanks to everyone who has already sent their amazing pics.

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AFN Convention returns to Anchorage


The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention has returned bringing thousands to the Dena’ina center in downtown Anchorage. The three-day convention began early Thursday morning under the theme “Rise as One.”

AFN President Julie Kitka welcomed tribal leaders and delegates and outlined accomplishments over the past year and challenges moving forward for the native community.

“Our task is to find the common goals and values that unite our people behind those priorities that are most pressing and essential for the future we are working to build,” said Kitka.

She said this year’s theme, Rise as One, is both a challenge and celebration, saying small everyday victories lay the foundation for a better future for future generations.

The AFN Convention goes through Saturday.

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Need Tlingit-brand boots? How about a mammoth tusk? You'll find it at AFN


No matter what you're looking for, chances are you may be able to find it at the Alaska Native Customary Art Fair.  More than a 170 vendors from Alaska, and some from the Lower 48 are set up on the first floor of the Dena'ina Center for the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives in the state.

Annie Fritze of Dillingham has been selling hats, mittens and other furs at the Alaska Federation of Natives event for 7 years.

"My husband traps a majority of the fur that sits here on this table. The beaver, the fox, the lynx," said Fritze.

Nearby, Shaa Kwaan of Juneau weaved bags at her display using yarn spun from mountain goat wool and bark.

"You have to wait at least a year for it to cure, and then boil it down from there," she explained.

Another vendor advertised a Woolly Mammoth tusk that he says he found in the village of Newtok.  The asking price? $5,400.

The art show continues Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Revenue investigator: Tip from outside Alaska led to reality star fraud charges


UPDATE: The tip that launched an investigation into an Alaska reality TV family came from outside the state, Department of Revenue officials said Thursday.

Scott Stair, chief investigator for the department's criminal investigation unit, would not discuss in detail accusations that six members of the Brown family lied on Permanent Fund dividend applications.

Asked what application requirements the stars of "Alaskan Bush People" violated, Stair replied in an email. "They (the Browns) didn't meet the physical requirements for the PFD application between October 2009 and August 2012. That lead to false statements on the application."

ORIGINAL STORY:

A family who stars in the Discovery Channel series “Alaskan Bush People” has been charged in state court on dozens of counts of Permanent Fund dividend fraud and felony theft.

A Juneau grand jury on Oct. 3 indicted Billy Brown and five members of his family, court records show. Discovery began featuring the Browns in one of its many Alaska-based realities shows in May, portraying the family as a quintessentially Alaskan clan living off the grid.

Brown and family members are accused of “falsely” submitting applications for Permanent Fund dividends, the annual checks awarded to most year-round Alaska residents. Billy Brown alone faces 24 felony counts and is accused of illegally obtaining $13,080 in dividend cash for himself and others.

The charges do not describe why investigators believe the Brown family was not eligible for the dividends that some members received between 2010 and 2013.

A spokesman for the Office of Special Prosecutions could not be reached to ask if and how the family did not meet dividend requirements, including Alaska residency.

“Deep in the Alaskan wilderness lives a newly discovered family who was born and raised wild,” Discovery announced ahead of the May 6 series premiere.

“No comment,” Discovery communications director Sean Martin wrote in an email, when asked for his reaction to the indictment.

Also charged, according to a copy of the indictment, are:

Amora Brown, four counts of unsworn falsification and four counts second-degree theft. Joshua Brown, four counts of unsworn falsification and four counts second-degree theft. Solomon Brown, four counts of unsworn falsification and four counts second-degree theft. Gabriel Brown, four counts of unsworn falsification and four counts of second-degree theft.Noah Brown, three counts of unsworn falsification and four counts of second-degree theft.

Contact reporter Kyle Hopkins at khopkins@ktuu.com. Twitter:  @kylehopkinsak.

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Police ask for public?s help in case of pit bull found hanging from tree


The Anchorage Police Department is asking for the public’s help in an animal cruelty case discovered earlier this month in East Anchorage.

On Oct. 10, a man walking in the woods near East 20th Avenue and Rosemary Street spotted a pit bull hanging from a tree. The animal was already dead, its throat slashed, police said.

Using a microchip implanted in the animal’s ear to find the owner of the dog, police contacted a man who said the pit bull had run away -- the owner thought -- about a week earlier. The dog was like a member of the family, the owner said. It's name was Snoop.

The dog had lived with a family in the Penland Mobile Home Park, roughly a mile from where he was found, police said.

Police and Animal Control officers are asking anyone with information about the case to call Crime Stoppers at 561-STOP or submit a tip online.

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Troopers seek driver who bashed patrol car in Wasilla


WASILLA — Alaska State Troopers are looking for a driver who fled from a traffic stop, bashed a patrol car and fled down an all-terrain vehicle trail.

Troopers say the man in a sport utility vehicle just before 1 a.m. Thursday was stopped by a trooper for traffic violations on west Clairborne Drive.

The officer contacted and identified the driver, who took off at high speed.

Troopers say that during a 10-minute chase, the driver rammed a patrol vehicle twice, causing extensive damage and minor injury to the officer.

The driver managed to flee down an all-terrain vehicle trail.

Troopers say they are seeking warrants for the man's arrest. They did not immediately release his name.

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