A fire in a Fairbanks clothing store early Sunday left behind extensive water and smoke damage -- as well as an open door for looters.
Joe Prax, owner of the Prospector Store, told Channel 2 that a fire started due to a fault with the boiler. The furnace room and the room above it caught on fire, but the sprinklers put it out; local fire crews then arrived and mopped up the scene.
After the fire was out, Prax said employees and family members were helping to clean up the mess and had propped the back door open. Three people were spotted by the owner's brother as they attempted to burglarize the store by sneaking in the back door.
The events that ensued were worthy of a "Cops" episode.
Fairbanks Police Department Lt. Dan Welbourne was driving by, responding to an unrelated noise complaint, when he saw what looked like people fighting in The Prospector's premises. One of them, 33-year-old Rebecca Graves, was about to lead him on a chase.
"When I stopped to break it up, (Graves) ran out of the building and ran up Cushman Street," Welbourne said Sunday afternoon. "I chased her down the street and tried using a Taser, but because of the circumstances it didn't work."
Graves made her way onto private property by jumping over a fence -- but Welbourne was able to jump over the fence right after her, handcuffing her in the yard.
When Welbourne brought Graves back to The Prospector, other officers had found 30-year-old Teaira VanSleet in the building and arrested her.
A third person was able to escape the initial police search, but after further investigation officers arrested Dametrey Rice, 20. Rice also had an outstanding warrant.
Graves, VanSleet and Rice were each charged with second-degree burglary. In addition, Graves faces one count and Rice faces two counts of violating conditions of release. All three are being held at the Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Prax says the store will remain closed for the next two days due to damages. No merchandise was taken.
One lane of the Seward Highway has reopened after a head-on collision Sunday afternoon in the Portage area, according to Alaska State Troopers.
AST dispatchers in Soldotna say minor injuries are reported in the two-vehicle collision, which troopers were first notified of as a crash with extrication required at about 2:40 p.m.
AST spokesman Tim DeSpain said the crash took place near Mile 85 of the highway, with no serious injuries but at least one person taken to a hospital in the region.
A Channel 2 photographer at the scene said an injured woman had chosen to remain with a seriously injured dog, pending the arrival of an Anchorage Animal Care and Control vehicle. Troopers at the scene said the road closure would end once that rendezvous was made.
While the crash is being handed by troopers, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Anita Shell said electronic signs on the highway are now displaying warnings of the collision.
"The road signs have been activated to alert traffic," Shell said.
DeSpain confirmed at about 4:30 p.m. that crews were working to restore normal traffic flow in the area.
"One lane is open and all should be open in about 45 minutes," DeSpain wrote in an email.
Editor's note: An initial version of this story placing the collision near the Seward Highway's junction with the Sterling Highway, based on a count of highway miles from Anchorage to Seward rather than vice versa, has been corrected.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
A dream of venturing through Alaskan wilderness carried Jaimee Kinzer here six years ago, when the Idaho native found work as a dog handler for longtime Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher DeeDee Jonrowe.
During the fall after that, Justin High made his way up from Michigan and also became a handler at Jonrowe's kennel, tucked away in dense forest with endless postcard scenes of snow-capped spruce, with an echoing sound of dogs yipping from any of the many neighborhood kennels.
Both newcomers wholeheartedly embraced the Willow and mushing communities, the Iditarod veteran said, and they quickly became more like Jonrowe's own kids than employees.
Eventually, though not for long, Jonrowe and her husband, Mike, started playing wingman for Justin.
"We were looking for a girlfriend for Justin," said Jonrowe, "and we heard through the grapevine that Jaimee would like it if we stopped that."
A few years later, in 2012, Jaimee and Justin became the Highs during an August ceremony officiated by Jonrowe at four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennel.
That year was also Jaimee's first attempt at the Iditarod, as she ran some of her boss's younger dogs and finished the race in 46th place.
"It all happened that year, 2012," Justin said.
"It was a beautiful ceremony, she was beautiful," Jonrowe remembers.
The newlyweds spent all the time they could spare and all the money they could come up with to break ground on a Willow cabin around the corner from their training grounds.
Jaimee started sewing dog gear for mushers with an industrial sewing machine she saved up for, he fished commercially during the summer and worked at Deshka Landing.
"Every penny they have made, they have built in their house," Jonrowe said.
Justin installs a roof on the cabin. (Courtesy Justin High)
This year's brown and snowless winter may draw even more ire here, in mushing country, than it has elsewhere in Alaska. "It's been awful," said Justin, "Just 12 inches."
Except for the weather, though, life for the Highs was moving along nicely as Jaimee trained for a second attempt at the Iditarod, this time with 16 of Jonrowe's dogs and eight of her own.
A plentiful potato crop in the Valley and a summer and fall spent canning vegetables hard to grow in winter, like tomatoes, left them with a full kitchen. Overall, they had just enough to get by.
That was true until Dec. 19, just another Friday, until it wasn't.
Jaime and Justin High embrace as they watch the home they built together burn to the ground. (Courtesy Liz Millman)
Jaimee was running the dogs to the post office when she got the call just before noon. Justin was at work.
By the time they arrived, all they could manage to save was the two dogs they kept inside the house, one recovering from a leg surgery and the other 17 years old.
The area is serviced by a volunteer fire department with firefighters dispersed over a huge area. While Justin didn't blame crews for the delay necessary to respond, by the time they scrambled and got to the property an hour later the damage was already done.
Everyone was OK, so were the dogs and three of six chickens, but everything was lost.
Losing the house is a particularly tough blow since it was uninsured, Justin said, but what hurts more is the loss of the irreplaceable: the wedding dress, an heirloom mink coat, the wedding ring left on the table while Jaimee ran the dogs.
"You can't inherit that again," Jonrowe said. "His grandfather was extremely special to Justin."
"My grandfather died about this time last year," Justin said. "The only thing I wanted from him was his old hunting rifle. That’s what I’ve got left of that."
"Probably can't rebuild it," Justin said as he held his grandfather's rifle, just before carrying the remnant to his truck. (KTUU / Austin Baird)
"It hurt when I came back over here," Justin said. "There's not much to salvage." (KTUU / Austin Baird)
Justin surveyed the property a day after the blaze, the first time he saw the damage in daylight. While smoke was still rising from ice-caked remnants of family photos and Christmas presents, Justin kept a sense of humor.
"It hurt when I came back over here this morning," he said. "But you try to smile, you try to joke."
A moment later he pointed to a pile of potatoes, varying shades of black and gray: "Pre-baked," he said.
Justin holds a charred potato that froze overnight as temperatures dipped to minus five. (KTUU / Austin Baird)
At the time of the fire, Jaimee had just finished an order for dog sweaters. "Won't make it out for Iditarod this year," Justin said. (KTUU / Austin Baird
The outpouring of support from friends and strangers makes it easier to stay positive, he said. A crowdfunding effort raised more than $15,000 before the weekend was over, and people offered all other sorts of help from new clothes to food to a helping hand.
"If I had 25 bodies that needed a bed, there would still be 25 more beds ready and waiting for me," Justin said. "It's just remarkable."
Jonrowe said the response is reminiscent of what happened after a 1996 crash on an ice-slicked Nenana River Bridge that killed her grandmother and left her and Mike severely injured.
"This is the kind of people we need to help," Jonrowe said, "the people who are working hard and already helping themselves, then a tragedy happens. I'm proud of Alaska."
While the immediate future remains uncertain, Jonrowe said she hopes to see Jaimee out on the trail in 2015.
Justin said he will rebuild the home next summer -- "Bigger and better, a lot more fireproofing," he said -- and the dogs and charred chickens, meantime, will recover at Jonrowe's kennel.
"I try to keep on remembering what we have," he said. "We have our dogs. We have each other. We have our friends and family."
DeeDee Jonrowe holds one of two dogs that was inside the Highs' home when the fire started. (KTUU / Austin Baird)
Jaimee and Justin High, Willow mushers, have been overwhelmed by support after a fire destroyed their home.
A male victim was shot and injured along 3rd Avenue Downtown early Sunday morning, with Anchorage police in the initial stages of an investigation.
APD spokeswoman Anita Shell said police were called just before 2:15 a.m. to the shooting, outside the PlayHouse Bar at 420 W. 3rd Ave.
“It was near closing time, so it looks like there were several people gathered outside,” Shell said. “One shot rang out and one person was struck.”
The victim was taken to a local hospital with what Shell described as a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to the torso. She didn’t have further information on the victim’s condition Sunday.
Police are still seeking the suspect, and don't have a motive for the shooting. Anyone with information on the incident should call APD at 786-8900.
Editor's note: An initial version of this story that inaccurately gave the shooting's location as near Cyrano's Off Center Playhouse at 413 D St. has been corrected.
Channel 2’s Lacie Grosvold contributed information to this story.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
At least two vehicles recently sank into the Chena River on a section long used as an ice-covered shortcut between Airport Way and Chena Small Tracts Road.
Bob Weaver, the owner of Ron's Towing, said a rented SUV driven by an out-of-state motorist sank Dec. 15 after making a left turn onto the river from Pike's Waterfront Lodge. No one was hurt.
The tow company was being followed by a camera crew, but Weaver told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner the incident was not staged.
Alaska State Troopers helped rescue the driver of another vehicle on Tuesday. Sgt. Brian Wassmann said two troopers found a 20-year-old woman standing on the roof of the vehicle helped her to shore. A dog trapped in the vehicle died.
Tammy Lynn Brantley, 30, of Soldotna, was arrested around 9.02 p.m. Saturday, by Alaska State Troopers, for driving while intoxicated with 3 young children in the car.
Troopers with the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol, stopped Brantley near milepost 8 of Kenai Spur Highway, according to a trooper dispatch.
"Investigation revealed she was driving the van, a 1994 Mercury, while impaired and under the influence of alcohol", troopers wrote.
Court records show that Brantley pleaded guilty to a DUI in 2013.
Brantley has been charged with a DUI, driving with a revoked license, driving in violation of license limitations, violation of conditions of release and child endangerment.
She was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility and is being held with no bail pending arraignment.
Gov. Bill Walker is continuing to fill out his Cabinet, naming Heidi Drygas to be state labor commissioner.
Drygas previously served as general counsel for the Alaska District Council of Laborers. Walker said Drygas has extensive experience in labor relations and will be an asset to his administration.
Drygas replaces Dianne Blumer. Her appointment is subject to legislative approval.
Walker also announced that Larry Hartig would remain as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. Walker cited Hartig's commitment to public service and knowledge of environmental and natural resource issues. Hartig has held the position since 2007.
Walker named Darwin Peterson as his legislative director. Peterson most recently served as chief of staff to Republican Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka.
Walker made the announcements by news release on Friday.
The Canadian government is allowing a proposed open-pit mine near the southeast Alaska border to advance.
Canada's Ministry of the Environment on Friday found the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects when mitigation measures are taken into account.
The project, known as the KSM, is in northwest British Columbia. It is northeast of Ketchikan and east of Wrangell.
Brent Murphy of mine owner Seabridge Gold says the project has won approval of the provincial and federal governments and can move ahead with permitting.
CoastAlaska reports investors are being sought to develop the proposed $5.3-billion mine.
The KSM deposit is upstream of two rivers that enter the ocean within about 50 miles of Ketchikan.
Mine opponents fear the project will pollute rivers and harm salmon.
The U.S. Coast Guard has rescued a hunter who was stranded on Chicagof Island in Alaska after he was separated from his hunting party.
Rescuers in Juneau were alerted that there was a hunter in distress on the nearby island. They launched a helicopter crew to find him in the dark of night.
The hunter stayed in communication with the rest of his group using a handheld radio.
Petty Officer 1st Class Georgette Lopez says that radio provided the Coast Guard with a GPS location that helped rescuers quickly find him.
An Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew hoisted the hunter Friday night and transferred him to Hoonah, Alaska.
A 32-year-old man died in downtown Anchorage Saturday morning, after being struck by a newspaper carrier's vehicle.
Christopher Thompson, named by APD after his next of kin were notified Saturday night, died at the scene of the collision. The driver of the car, Rommel Ramos, was delivering papers for the Alaska Dispatch News when the crash occurred on the 1400 block of 12th Ave at about 2:26 a.m.
Ramos reportedly did not see the victim according to Anchorage Police spokesperson, Anita Shell. "We don't know whether he (the victim) was walking on the roadway or if he was lying down on the roadway so there are still some unanswered questions," she said.
The victim got stuck under the car, a 2002 Saturn sedan, APD said in an email. Anchorage Fire Department responded to the call and removed the victim from under the car.
"(Ramos) remained on scene and was cooperative with investigators," APD said in an email. The driver has not yet been charged with anything.
The police are waiting on toxicology reports to determine whether alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash.
Thompson's body has been sent to the state medical examiner's office for an autopsy to determine his cause of death.
A crew hoisted 57,000 pounds of steel above Providence drive, in a big step for the $6 million project for a pedestrian bridge by the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Saturday afternoon.
A section of Providence Drive between Piper Street and Spirit Way will be closed until January 4th for construction of the massive pedestrian bridge between the university's engineering building and health and sciences building.
Sam Adams, senior superintendent with Neeser Construction said the company had been planning for setting the steel for about a year, but it was good to see those plans work out. "It's a good Christmas present to see something like that put into place." he said.
The University of Alaska Anchorage says the bridge will serve as a symbol. "(the walkways) provide a structure that reflects and celebrates the University as a driver for social, intellectual, and creative development," a university statement said.
Michael Scott, 35, and Corey Jenson, 19 of Palmer have been arrested in the burglary of Eklutna Tailrace, Alaska Fish hatchery, Friday, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Troopers received a report, on Nov. 8, that $30,000 worth of metals had been stolen from the fishing hatchery and severe damage had been caused to the property, which is an Alaska Department of Fishing and Game facility.
"During the event(s) the perpetrators caused approximately $30,000 worth of damage by cutting through walls to access copper wire and other locked portions of the building," troopers wrote in a dispatch, Friday night.
The two men were arrested, Friday, and were sent to Mat-Su Pretrial home.
"Further investigation determined Michael Scott was responsible for the theft of nearly $2000 of personal property taken from a vehicle in Glacier View near mile 100 of the Glenn Highway on or about 12/13/14", troopers wrote.
Troopers say several other participants have been identified and investigations are ongoing.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
A fire that sparked around noon Friday at a Willow home owned by a mushing couple quickly spread and burned both buildings to the ground.
"Everybody's OK, but we lost everything," said Justin High, a musher who has run races including the Copper Basin 300 and Willow-Tug 300.
All 24 dogs in the nearby kennel survived the blaze.
Justin's wife, Jaimee, ran the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 2012 and planned to again in 2015. The couple together built the cabin and the kennel from the ground up over the past few years, Justin said by phone.
"I built it all by hand, paid cash, no insurance," Justin said. "It's tough, but everyone is OK."
The couple also runs a company called High's Adventure Kennel, which provides sled dog tours and also supplies mushers with custom stitched dog coats and other dog gear.
For now, the dogs are staying with fellow musher DeeDee Jonrowe, who once employed both of the Highs.
Fire investigators are trying to figure out the source, but Justin said whatever it was it came from a shop area where there was a washer and dryer and tools.
A crowd funding effort is under way to help the Highs rebuild.
Channel 2's Austin Baird and Maria Downey contributed to this report.
Please watch Channel 2 News and check KTUU.com for updates to this developing story.
Four years ago he teamed up with his Western Alaska students to create a viral hit on YouTube. Now Quinhagak teacher Jim Barthelman and friends are back with a new video -- set to a familiar tune -- that tells the story of Alaska’s warm, wet and not-so-white Christmas.
Barthelman, who blogged for years about life in Southwest Alaska, said he filmed the clip using an iPhone 6 in just two hours on Friday, Dec. 5.
The 33-year-old teaches fourth grade at Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat school, 71 miles southwest of Bethel. Many of the more than 200 students watched the new video for the first time at the Christmas program Thursday.
Weird weather is an all-too familiar topic of conversation in the village lately. From the very first shot, frost dripping from a roof, they were laughing.
“We had snow twice last winter," Barthelman said. "Every storm we got was rain, it was crazy, and this year kind of feels the same way."
While weather forecasts predict snow by Christmas Day, Quinhagak residents have learned to be skeptical of predictions for the village, which are sometimes based on Dillingham weather.
As of today, only an inch of powder covers the town, Barthelman said.
“The video didn’t work," he said. "It didn’t produce more snow for us.”
A superior court judge sentenced Lane Douglas Wyatt to 18 years in prison today as punishment for a deadly drunken driving crash in 2013.
Wyatt's blood-alcohol level was .196, more than twice the legal limit to drive, when his sedan smashed into a Monte Carlo carrying five people. The driver of the other car, 20-year-old Citari Townes-Sweatt, was instantly killed.
In court today, Wyatt apologized to Townes-Sweatt's mother as she listened over the phone.
"I particularly want to apologize for taking her away from you," Wyatt told Lanita Sweatt-Sanders. "I don't know how I'll forgive myself for that."
The mother replied, "I sincerely forgive you."
"You need to forgive yourself," she said.
The crash came just before 5 a.m. June 30 of last year at the intersection of Boniface Parkway and Debarr Road. It marked the first of a series of deadly drunken-driving accidents in Anchorage that prompted police to increase enforcement and begin using citizen patrols to flag dangerous drivers.
Under an agreement with prosecutors, Wyatt pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree assault and drunken driving. He was sentenced to 23 years with five suspended.
The state had asked for a sentence of 21 years to "send a message" to the community that drunk driving is not tolerated. Several of Wyatt's family members addressed the judge, and spoke of Wyatt's character. Until the crash, he did not have a criminal record, they said, and was a model airman and devoted family member. He also claimed responsibility for the crash from the beginning, they added.
At the end of the sentencing, Jamaesha Sweatt, the victim's sister, hugged Wyatt's parents, Douglas and Deborah Wyatt.
"I just want to let them know that I understand," she said. "I don't understand what it's like to lose a child but I understand the hurt that they're going through."
She told the court that she also forgives Wyatt. Citari would too, she said.
"I honestly think that she would. She was really forgiving," said Sweatt.
The 18-year sentence was somewhat surprising, said Sweatt, who feels that it was lengthy.
"I don't wish jail upon anybody, not even my worst enemy," she said. "He's young and his youth is gone and being that he has to deal with his conscience, knowing that he has taken a life- that's enough," said Sweatt.
The former Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson airman turned 24 years old on Tuesday.
Following a search of the building, police cleared East High school and ended the evacuation as of about 3 p.m., said district spokeswoman Heidi Embley.
Embley said the basketball tournament will resume at East. The evacuation lasted about an hour, following a bomb threat called into the school.
A bomb threat made by a caller at about 2 p.m. has prompted Anchorage School District officials to evacuate East High School, a district spokeswoman said.
Today was not a school day but a basketball tournament has been delayed, said spokeswoman Heidi Embley. Teams are waiting at Russian Jack Elementary as police investigate.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story said the basketball tournament had been moved to Russian Jack. Embley said students are waiting at neighboring school to stay warm. Check back for updates.
The man accused of killing a Barrow prosecutor was indicted Friday by a Nome grand jury on counts of first- and second-degree murder and third-degree assault.
Ronald James Fischer, 47, is accused of shooting to death Brian Sullivan, 48, who was one of two prosecutors in the northern community at the time of his Dec. 8 death.
Each of the murder charges carries as many as 99 years in prison and a maximum $500,000 fine. The assault charge carries a maximum five-year sentence and $50,000 fine.
Please watch Channel 2 News and check KTUU.com for updates to this developing story.
Shell contractor Noble Drilling pleaded guilty this morning in federal court to all 8 felony counts.
"The victims are all of us because we all have an interest in a clean and healthy environment," Judge Ralph Beistline said.
Prosecutors said the fine and penalties are significant, but that Noble Drilling is a company with significant resources. Some crew members thanked the feds for investigating the case, prosecutors said.
The sentencing, outlined in a plea agreement, includes:
-- An $8.2 million fine.
-- $4 million in community service payments, which include $2.5 million to the International Arctic Research Center, $1 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $500,000 to the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. in Alaska.
-- An environmental compliance plan will be implemented and the company will be subject to third-party audits.
-- Four years of probation, which can be suspended after three years.
Prosecutors plan to make a statement to media about the case at 11 a.m.
Noble Drilling, while under contract on offshore drilling work for Shell, broke environmental and maritime laws in Alaska in 2012, according to a plea agreement filed today in federal court.
U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler's office says Noble will plead guilty to eight felonies and has agreed to pay $12.2 million in fines and community service payments.
Federal authorities describe the company's role in Shell’s 2012 offshore drilling plan as operator of the Noble Discoverer and drilling operator of the Kulluk drilling platform. The Noble Discoverer required extensive repairs after a Coast Guard inspection in Seward turned up numerous environmental and safety violations, while the Kulluk broke free from its tow line and grounded on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak on New Year’s Eve in 2012. Both vessels were ultimately taken to Asia for repairs.
The charges are related to Noble's efforts to side-step environmental reporting laws and laws regulating the disposal of waste-water, and to conceal those efforts from authorities.
The company admits to making false entries about the collection, storage and disposal of oil in record-keeping books, among other crimes, according to the plea agreement.
According to prosecutors, Noble admitted to:
-- Knowing and willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drill ship Noble Discoverer.
-- Failing to maintain an accurate “oil record book” and an accurate “international oil pollution prevention certificate.”
-- Failing to maintain a ballast water record book.
In a statement on the plea agreement, Noble Drilling parent firm Noble Corporation emphasized the voluntary nature of steps it has taken in response to the Justice Department allegations.
The company said it has already replaced the Noble Discoverer's engine and power systems, as well as upgrading the drillship's environmental protection facilities; training and records programs have also been improved.
"Issues noted related to the Kulluk focused on record-keeping," Noble officials wrote. "Concerns related to the Noble Discoverer have been addressed during the renovation and modernization of the rig which occurred as part of an extensive shipyard program conducted in Korea and Singapore."
Asked if Shell, the owner of the Kulluk, was aware of the environmental crimes at the time they occurred, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis would not answer the question.
Feldis said prosecutors, meeting with reporters at an afternoon news conference in Anchorage, would only talk about the Noble plea agreement. "We're not going to venture beyond the charges we have here today," he said.
Asked if more charges might still be filed, Feldis said the agreement announced Monday completes the investigation of the Kulluk and Discoverer and related events. He would not say if Shell cooperated in the investigation.
Shell Alaska spokeswoman Megan Baldino said in a statement on Noble's settlement that in the aftermath of the 2012 season, Shell and Noble had initiated "procedural and safety management system reviews" subject to verification by external audits, in order to avoid a repeat of the incidents from that year.
"We were disappointed to learn these events had taken place in 2012, but as the agreement confirms, Noble took immediate steps to investigate the incidents and enhance its training and compliance programs," Baldino wrote. "While Noble has worked to resolve all of the issues and has appropriately accepted responsibility, we’ve made clear that their actions in 2012 are not acceptable."
The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's criminal division investigated the case.
In addition to the fines and community service payments, Noble has been placed on corporate probation for four years. During the probation, the company's environmental compliance plan will be monitored by a third-party auditor, Feldis said.
Reporter Chris Klint contributed to this developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
A Haines man who was acting as a non-commercial guide was found guilty of dumping refuse into the Colorado River while leading an excursion through the Grand Canyon National Park earlier this year.
Nelbert “Nels” Niemi, according to a federal citation issued June 25, was the leader of a 12-day rafting trip that started April 12.
“We had large fires every night,” trip participant Mark Cole told an investigator, the citation claims. “Garbage was dumped into the river every day!
“Cole went on to say, ‘The acts of dumping garbage into the river and collecting firewood were almost exclusively done by the trip leader, Nelbert, and his fellow commercial boatman.’”
(The number of trips through the pristine but tightly-regulated canyon is limited annually, and burning of driftwood collected along the shore is allowed only during the winter months.)
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Aspey ordered the 75-year-old to pay $1,500 in fines and about $1,000 in court costs, and federal prosecutors used the conviction as an example by issuing a press release to Arizona media.
While he was a non-commercial guide at the time of the offense, Niemi is described by the Expedition School as a "50-year veteran of bush flying" with "considerable guiding experience in organizing and leading climbing, whitewater rafting and overland ice expeditions."
His background was not lost on prosecutors.
"At sentencing, evidence was produced showing that Niemi was employed by a commercial expedition company, which advertised the company's commitment to the 'Leave No Trace Behind' principle," wrote Cosme Lopez of the U.S. Attorney's Office. "The court ... expressed concern that Niemi displayed complete disregard for regulations designed to protect the river ecosystem."
Aspey, according to the prosecutors, added similar criticism: "It is clear you chose not to abide by those regulations with which you agreed, and ignored those with which you did not," the judge noted.