ANCHORAGE -- A deadly crash near Portage that closed Seward Highway for 10 hours Friday is still under investigation, but Alaska State Troopers on Tuesday confirmed details of the moments leading to the multi-vehicle pileup.
Investigation so far has revealed that three vehicles were stopped in the northbound lane as someone was waiting to turn into the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Around 12:18 p.m., a tour bus slammed into the truck at the rear of the pack: a truck towing a trailer.
"The tour bus then collided with a southbound 2011 GMC Yukon driven by John Zollner," troopers wrote in a news dispatch. The SUV was vinyl-wrapped with Zollner's professional name, "The Tax Man," for a tax filing preparation business he ran in Anchorage.
Zollner died on scene, and his wife, Amy, was taken by ambulance to Providence Alaska Medical Center, where her daughter, Eiko Benefield, was taken by a LifeMed helicopter. The 21-year-old suffered facial fractures in the crash.
The family was en route to Seward for a weekend trip celebrating Benefield's birthday, Amy said in a phone interview with Channel 2 News.
Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen would not release the identity of the bus driver, and she said the agency is not allowed to say whether criminal charges will be filed while an investigation continues.
Commercial Vehicle Enforcement inspectors from the state Transportation Department are examining the bus as part of the investigation.
The crash caused traffic to line up miles in each direction on what was a sunny and warm Friday, and the final hours of Kenai's dipnetting season.
Troopers offered an explanation for the time it took to clear the highway: "Due to the number of vehicles involved and massive damage to the trailers, that removal process was time consuming," AST wrote in a dispatch. "Special equipment, including trailers and a fork lift, had to be brought to the scene to help clear the road."
ANCHORAGE -- After a family of 11 was displaced by a trailer fire over the weekend, the American Red Cross of Alaska that's placed the family in a hotel for a few days said it will be challenging to find long-term housing that will meet their needs in Anchorage.
"If we have upwards of 12 people like we did last Saturday it could be a bit of a process, but basically it's something we're comfortable in doing it," Beth Bennett of the American Red Cross of Alaska said.
NeighborWorks Alaska that assists people with rentals and home ownership said it's seeing a growth in a large number of families living in one unit together.
"That could be through their children, it could be through their inter-generationals, so grandma and grandpa or aunty and uncle all reside in one house or one apartment unit or mobile home because it's affordable," Debe Mahoney, executive director of NeighborWorks Alaska.
Mahoney said the options for families looking for affordable housing are few.
"There are not a lot of options out there that people could afford if they're just on their own with a family," Mahoney said.
Anchorage police are investigating a possible homicide in Northeast Anchorage, police wrote in a press release Monday evening.
According to police multiple reports were made of shots fired and then of gunshot victim just after 6:00 p.m. outside a residential building at the 7800 block of Creekside Center Drive.
Carlette Carney, a resident of the building outside which the shooting occurred told Channel 2 journalist Dan Carpenter that she heard several gunshots and rushed out of her home. Carney said "he (the victim) sustained about five or six gunshot wounds. He tried his best to survive but even CPR couldn't keep him alive."
Carney, a resident of the building outside which the shooting occurred,
"Police responded to the scene and located a gunshot wound victim who was pronounced deceased at the scene," police wrote.
No arrests have been made.
No additional information was released.
Channel 2's Dan Carpenter contributed to this story.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
JUNEAU -- In the darkness on the last day of July, three unidentified men climbed the Alaska Capitol and stole the American and Alaska flags.
The Juneau Empire reports that the men were caught on security cameras during the 1 a.m. flag theft on Friday, July 31.
Legislative Affairs Agency Chief of Security Steven Daigle emailed camera footage to legislative staffers on Monday afternoon.
Video shows three men walking down the street, breaking through a chain-link fence around Capitol construction and later leaving through the same location.
Juneau Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl shared the photos on a Juneau community Facebook page. He told the Empire by phone that stealing the flags was "just the wrong thing to do."
Juneau police say they are investigating the incident.
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com
FAIRBANKS -- The Bering Straits Native Corp. has reached an agreement to purchase statewide construction supplier Alaska Industrial Hardware.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the deal was finalized Monday. BSNC officials say it is part of an effort to diversify the company's holdings. The Nome-based corporation is already involved in government operations, lands and resource development.
BSNC spokesman Matt Ganley declined to disclose how much the corporation paid for the hardware store. He says the purchase was under discussion for about a year.
Bering Straits Native Corp. is the regional Alaska Native corporation for the Bering Strait region. It is owned by more than 7,100 Alaska Native shareholders.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com
The three men charged in connection with the 2013 death of Ferdinand Marquez in Midtown Anchorage, all changed their plea in the same courtroom Monday.
Jerrick Blankenship, 20, 35-year-old Lewis Ray Martin and 26-year-old David James Walent all pleaded guilty for their parts in bludgeoning to death of 50-year-old Marquez in September 2013, outside the Anchorage Community Mental Health Services building.
Ssurveillance footage from outside the hospital, used as evidence in the case, showed four men punching and kicking Marquez, with one man allegedly smashing a road sign into his head repeatedly.
The surveillance video also showed the men rummaging through Marquez's backpack after the attack and stealing items from it.
Blankenship and Walent pleaded guilty to second degree murder while Martin pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
The fourth man involved in the crime, Matthew Lewis Martin, accepted a plea deal in the case last year and is currently serving a 4-year sentence for robbery with intent to cause serious injury.
Assistant district attorney Christina Sherman said it's unusual for defendants to change their pleas all together at the same time and agree to the same sentencing day.
"A lot of times cases like this go to trial," said Sherman. "Sometimes one defendant will change plea and that will change the posture of a case or two defendants will plea and a third go to trial."
Sherman did say, however, it was important the case be resolved at the same time because all defendants were in it together.
"I think that is a fair resolution in a case like this," Sherman said.
Possible jail times vary for each defendant - Walent could face anywhere between 25 and 99 years in prison, Blankenship could face between 10 and 30 years and Martin could face up to 12 years.
Blankenship, Walent and Martin will be sentenced together on Dec 11.
The melted and charred remnants of an Eagle River playground that was set on fire over the weekend, were removed Monday.
School district officials say the fire is the fifth playground to have burned in the last five years. The charred school playground list includes Taku, Willow Crest, Alpenglow, Fairveiw and Aquarian.
Officials say the cost to replace Alpenglow's playground equipment will cost between $40,000 and $60,000.
The total cost for damaged playground equipment this summer will be closer to $100,000.
Surveillance video footage and witnesses were key in identifying the four teens who were involved in setting fire to Taku Elemtrary School playground, earlier this summer.
Anchorage School District superintendent Ed Graff said the district is seeking restitution in that case and hopes those responsible for the latest fire are caught.
"It's very concerning that we have these kind of events occurring in our schools and on our school grounds and really want to encourage our community of being aware of what's going on during the summer months," Graff said.
The estimated time for repairs is unknown for either Taku or Alpenglow playgrounds to be rebuilt.
Over the weekend, Anchorage recorded its seventh outdoor death in just the past three weeks. Officials believe the synthetic drug "spice" could be a factor in the recent rise.
"We're concerned that spice may be increasing again, not just in our population, but in the community in general," said Lisa Sauder, executive director at Bean's Cafe.
"I know that we have seen, at least anecdotally, an increase in seizures and other behaviors that are indicative of spice use."
Spice is a synthetic drug that mimics marijuana. It is often laced with other substances.
"I'm now hearing that there are sticks of what they call 'loaded spice' that actually contains embalming fluid and other substances like that," said Scott Stender, manager at Bean's Cafe.
"It's highly hazardous to the human body. It will kill you."
Despite the unpredictable nature of the drug, Gary Royse, a client at Bean's Cafe, says it's too readily available, too cheap and it does too good of a job at helping users "escape" that people won't stop using it.
"It's an escape, and let's face it, there's not a whole lot to be happy about down here," said Royse.
"Even though it's only a 20- or 30-minute high, that's 20 or 30 minutes they don't have to deal with this."
Bean's Cafe is working with the mayor's office and Anchorage police in an attempt to put a stop to what they call a growing epidemic.
The Marijuana Control Board discussed the final section of a draft of regulations Monday which will regulate the cannabis industry in the state.
The board will close public comments on the first two sections of the draft, known as packet one and two, on Aug 10 and the third and final section will be introduced at the time.
During the Monday meeting, the board discussed the intent of the regulations with the drafter of the proposal and also discussed legal issues with a counsel.
"This has been very helpful because the board was appointed fairly late in the process and this is our opportunity to sit down with the drafters of the regulations, and talk about what went in to the regulations, what the intent was, where they expect these to go so it's been a very healthy, very cordial discussion, and very productive," said Board Chair Bruce Schulte.
Schulte also noted that he thinks the board is on schedule with regulations drafts and that he is "looking forward to having a very well considered, well thought out set of rules and regulations by November 24."
UPDATE 6:00 p.m.: Police wrote in an updated press release that the weapon used in the shooting appears to be an air soft gun and the bullet holes are in the rear windshield of the car.
"The suspect vehicle was reported to have taken off westbound on Northern Lights following the incident," police wrote.
Anyone with information on the incident can contact police dispatch at 907-786-8900.
ORIGINAL STORY: Anchorage police are investigating a drive-by shooting at a car in East Anchorage Monday evening, police wrote in a press release.
The shooting took place just after 4:30 p.m. police wrote, on Northern Lights Boulevard, eastbound of Lake Otis, before UAA Drive.
"It was reported to police that an older black Ford SUV, possibly an explorer, with a lift kit opened fire on a vehicle that was pulled over on the side of the road," police wrote.
Police say no physical injuries have been reported by the stopped vehicle has multiple rounds in it.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 786-8900.
This is a developing story. Please check back for details.
State political leaders are welcoming the news that Alaska was not included in a new federal rule aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it doesn't have the information needed to determine the best system of emission reduction in Alaska, which, like Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam has isolated infrastructures.
The agency says it will determine how best to address setting emission standards for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants in those states and territories at an unspecified later date.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski called the EPA decision a "significant victory" for Alaska but says she remains concerns about the impact of the rule nationally.
Gov. Bill Walker says he looks forward to working with the agency to establish appropriate goals for Alaska.
FAIRBANKS — Authorities in Fairbanks are searching for a 30-year-old man who went missing after jumping into the Chena River.
City spokeswoman Amber Courtney tells the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that two men jumped from a downtown Fairbanks pedestrian bridge Sunday night.
The other man was able to swim to the south shore, but Tyler B. Cover disappeared from view while trying to make it to the north shore. The other man wasn't identified.
Courtney says the two men had dared each other to jump from the William Ransom Wood Centennial Bridge about 8:20 p.m.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com
JUNEAU -- The City and Borough of Juneau Finance Committee has decided to pass its proposed changes to the senior sales tax exemption on to the Assembly for consideration.
The Juneau Empire reports that the Assembly will now decide on the changes, which include limiting the senior sales tax exemption to food, heating fuel, electricity as well as water and wastewater utilities. The committee's proposal would also introduce a need-based program, allowing low-income seniors to continue benefiting from the existing tax exemption.
City finance officials expect the proposed changes to increase tax revenue for Juneau by about $1 million annually.
Dixie Hood, member of the Juneau Commission on Aging, says she plans to propose that the commission write a resolution to the Assembly in support of the Finance Committee's proposal.
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com
ANCHORAGE -- A semi-truck driver collided with a guardrail near Chickaloon early Monday, causing the truck to roll on its side, blocking the northbound lane of the Glenn Highway, according to the Alaska State Troopers.
James Fitts, 36 of Anchorage, was driving a 2003 Freightliner near Mile 85 of the highway a little after 1 a.m. when he crashed the truck, troopers wrote in a news dispatch.
He was taken to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center where he was treated for "minor injuries."
"Investigation is ongoing," troopers wrote. "Drivers should expect delays and intermittent lane closures in the area."
KETCHIKAN -- The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly will cast its first official vote on a proposed tobacco tax.
The Ketchikan Daily News reports that the Assembly is considering a $3-per-pack tax on cigarettes and a 75-percent wholesale tax on other tobacco products including e-cigarettes Monday.
The Assembly last voted on the topic in July. They split the vote four to three on whether to draft the ordinance. In June the tax failed to pass muster when two members were absent. If approved, it will return to the Assembly again for a second vote.
The borough estimates the tax would raise more than $1.2 million. That revenue would be split between the city of Ketchikan and the rest of the borough, with the city receiving 60 percent.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com
ANCHORAGE -- A weekend trip to Seward, for one Anchorage family, came to an abrupt end at the Seward Highway turnoff to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
John Zollner III and his wife, Amy, were driving a sports utility vehicle emblazoned with bright red letters reading "The Tax Man," a moving billboard for the business John built in the years since he came to Alaska in 1990. Also in the car was Eiko Benefield, the couple's daughter, who had lobbied her parents to travel with her to the Yukon Bar in Seward for her twenty-first birthday.
"When she was little, we went there," Amy said in a Sunday phone interview. "We had a camper outside, and the kids stood outside of the bar and listened to Hobo Jim play. My daughter could sing all his songs, and he sang a song with her."
Eiko knew all the words from John, who came into her life when she was 8 years old, and loved all sorts of music and especially Hobo Jim. The idea was for everyone to make it into the bar, to play the same song again.
"About five minutes or three minutes before the accident, he said, 'We're going to have an amazing weekend,'" Amy recalls. "Look at all this sunshine."
But then a tour bus, operated by The Park Connection and carrying 42 people northbound to Anchorage, slammed into the SUV carrying the Zollners and several other vehicles.
Alaska State Troopers have released no new details about the crash since early Saturday, but at last report three people who have not been publicly identified were transported to Anchorage hospitals with critical injuries.
Others were hospitalized with less serious injuries. The driver has not been publicly identified but survived without serious injuries and has been released from a hospital, the company said in a statement provided to KTUU.
From a hospital where her daughter is recovering from facial fractures, Amy said she wishes people would take it easy on the infamously dangerous stretch of road where her husband lost his life: "Go slow. If the speed limit is 55, go 50. Just be safe," she said, adding that she believes drivers of large vehicles should follow that rule especially closely. "For crying out loud, if a bus hits you, you're going to die."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those involved in the tragic incident which occurred on the Seward Highway at Mile 80 today," Steve Judd, president of The Park Connection, wrote in an email.
Amy met John 12 years ago on Match.com, she said. "On his profile, he said, 'I want to meet someone who wants to be met and have a relationship.' Who doesn't want that? And his smile is what made me email him. I emailed him."
Since the first date the two have been a couple. John had a wide circle of friends built up over the years, from his childhood in Massachusetts to past jobs at Simon and Seafort's and the Glacier Brewhouse, Amy said.
The shock of his passing remains, but Amy said the topic of death came up not long ago, when a friend of hers received a terminal diagnosis.
"I said, 'I'm so glad she has some time to say goodbye,'" Amy recalls. "He said, 'But she has three months to say goodbye. She's going to wake up every day worrying that today's the day. I don't know if that's better, or if it's better just to go quickly.'"
John leaves behind his two children -- Jacob, 31, and Jasmine, 29 -- as well as five step children: Eiko, Kodi and Patrick Avila, Matthew Zollner, and Mariah Cronin. He also had three grandchildren and another on the way.
The family plans a memorial at Spenard's Buckaroo Club, his favorite bar, at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8.
ANCHORAGE -- The Seward Highway has reopened after a crash involving a tour bus and five other vehicles Friday, which killed an Anchorage man and injured multiple people involved in the wreck.
Anchorage Police Department dispatchers said as of 11:15 p.m. Friday that the highway is now open. Southbound traffic was reportedly being given priority over northbound traffic, however.
Late Friday, Alaska State Troopers identified John Zollner III, 55 of Anchorage, as the deceased victim of the crash that has shuttered Seward Highway for several hours.
The road closure was initially expected to last six hours but was extended to approximately 10 to 11 p.m., "depending on the time it takes to clear the vehicles in the accident," state Department of Transportation officials wrote in a release.
According to troopers, a bus operated by tourism company The Park Connection was driving north on the highway a moment after noon when it struck another northbound vehicle that stopped to wait for cars turning into the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage.
"That crash resulted in a multi-car crash which included the tour bus and five other occupied vehicles, two of which were towing trailers," troopers wrote in a dispatch.
LifeMed helicopters took to people to an Anchorage hospital to be treated for "serious injuries," and others were taken by ambulances for less serious injuries.
There were 42 passengers on board, mainly independent travelers from hotels who were going from Seward to Anchorage, the company said in an email to Channel 2 News. People were picked up from the small boat harbor and Seward Windsong Lodge around 10:45 a.m., and the plan was to arrive in Anchorage at 1:30 p.m.
Two passengers who were in the front right seat were taken to a hospital by ambulance, Thompson said, one receiving treatment for shock and both being treated for muscle soreness and minor cuts; the driver also sustained minor injuries.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those involved in the tragic incident which occurred on the Seward Highway at Mile 80 today," Steve Judd, president of The Park Connection, wrote in an email. "We are very appreciative of the quick response from the Alaska State Troopers and EMT’s assisting those involved."
Zollner's next-of-kin were on scene, but details about other victims have no been released. Neither were details about the make and models of vehicles involved.
During a Sunday interview, Zollner's wife, Amy, said that she suffered minor injuries. Her daughter suffered facial fractures and is recovering at a hospital.
"My husband was the best person I ever met. He made you feel special. He made everyone feel special," she said.
Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspectors are assisting with the investigation, troopers wrote in a release.
Please check KTUU.com and watch Channel 2 News for updates to this developing story. A crew is on scene and will provide updates throughout the evening.
An Akiachak man stands accused of several assault counts, after Alaska State Troopers say he assaulted a pair of his relatives early Saturday -- as well as the first pair of responders to reach the scene.
According to an AST dispatch, troopers were informed of the incident in Akiachak -- a community of about 670 people roughly 18 miles northeast of Bethel -- at about 6 a.m. Saturday. Matthew Pasitnak, 23, was ultimately taken into custody as a result of the call.
“Investigation revealed that (Pasitnak) had assaulted two family members while intoxicated,” troopers wrote. “Tribal police had originally responded to investigate the incident, but two TPOs were also assaulted by Matthew. During the investigation, Matthew made false claims in an attempt to implicate family members in the assault investigation.”
Troopers subsequently responded to investigate the incident, and Pasitnak was arrested on seven charges -- including one second-degree and two fourth-degree counts of domestic-violence assault, as well as two counts each of fourth-degree assault and making a false report.
AST spokeswoman Beth Ipsen hadn't received a response Sunday from responding troopers regarding questions about the case, including what weapons if any Pasitnak had and the extent of injuries involved in the incident.
Pasitnak was held without bail. An online inmate database listed him as in custody Sunday evening at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center.
Anchorage police are asking the public for any information on a fatal hit-and-run collision in Mountain View early Friday morning.
According to an APD statement, police responded just after 1:30 a.m. to Mountain View Drive’s intersection with North Park Street after receiving reports of a woman lying in the road.
“Upon arrival police found 39-year-old Claudia Kuzakin who appeared to be a victim of a hit-and-run,” police wrote. “Kuzakin was transported to a local hospital where she was declared deceased a few moments later.”
In a subsequent statement Friday, APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad said police were looking for a white or light-colored SUV -- a full-size model, tentatively described as similar to a Chevrolet Tahoe -- in connection with the case, releasing a surevillance-camera image of the vehicle.
"The Anchorage Police Department understands drivers involved in such incidents may panic and react in a manner contrary to their true character by fleeing the scene," Oistad wrote. "Drivers are reminded when involved in collisions involving death or physical injury they are obligated to render assistance to the injured person(s)."
Anyone with information on the collision should call APD at 786-8900, or contact Crime Stoppers at 561-STOP or via its website.
A Saturday music event at a popular Mexican eatery in South Anchorage is drawing rave reviews from organizers -- and rage from some area residents, who say it was too loud and too close to nearby homes.
At Gallo’s Mexican Restaurant, across the Old Seward Highway from the Dimond Center mall, Sunday afternoon was spent putting away the stage where salsa singers performed less than 24 hours earlier.
“It was just phenomenal: it was safe, people had fun, it was the best event I've ever been to,” said Silvia Villamides with Alaska Hospitality Retailers.
“We're so happy that we had this concert in Alaska because this is the first time that Mexicans got a chance to enjoy a concert with a band there,” said Gallo’s manager Ludy Ayala. “Everybody enjoyed it.”
A video recorded at the concert by Ayala shows a boisterous but orderly event, with people watching groups play and musicians preparing to swap out between sets.
The concert drew more than 500 people. It raised money for AHR in support of programs like Off the Road, which offers inebriated patrons at members’ establishments an alternative to driving home.
“One vehicle is transported by a licensed chauffeur, and the other one is transported by another licensed chauffeur, and they get home at the same time so it's a very safe program," Villamides said.
But in a quiet neighborhood about a mile away from Gallo’s, Kathy Madej says the noise was too much.
“It was just way too loud for a mile away from Gallo’s, and I work hours that require me to sometimes be up very early,” Madej said. “Maybe they should have made it not as late or maybe not as loud, and maybe more notices would have been appreciated.”
Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said dispatchers received multiple noise complaints from 11:30 p.m. Saturday through 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Officers responded at about 12:30 a.m. and asked the group to turn down the music, but Gallo’s did have a noise permit for the concert until 2 a.m.
“When the police department came over, they checked the permit and the permit was fine,” Villamides said.
According to Villamides, complaints came in from as far away as the Anchorage Hillside.
“I personally apologize for that and never in my mind, never, I thought that it would hit all the way to the Hillside,” Villamides said. “Here we are -- Dimond Center, commercial, industrial -- (but it) hit the residential, so to those neighbors of ours we do apologize for that.”
Although Madej said she appreciated organizers’ apology, Villamides said the noise could be a symptom of a bigger issue.
“What we're lacking in Anchorage is a place where we can have a concert that there's no neighbors really around, especially residential neighbors, (where) we can actually not bother people,” Villamides said.