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Oil Spill training 15 years after major train derailment


Multiple agencies joined together for an oil spill drill taking place in Ship Creek. The exercise was headed up by the Alaska Railroad Corporation about 15 years since an actual spill threatened the Susitna River.

Tim Sullivan, Alaska Railroad Corporate Affairs Spokesperson, says the Gold Creek derailment was the last time the company had a reported spill and while that is a long time ago it wants to stay prepared if another incident should occur.

The scenario Wednesday required crews to respond to a locomotive derailment leaking diesel fuel into a culvert that drains into Ship Creek. No actual chemicals were involved in the drill.

Crews practiced using a skimmer on top if the water, plus booms to prevent further spread.

Sullivan says it's important to practice drills involving waterways since much of the Alaska Railway passes over or near waterways.

"The first preparation that we do is making sure accidents don't occur," says Sullivan. "But when they do occur we want to be ready to take care of them."

The yearly drill is required by the state of Alaska. The department of conservation and the environmental protection agency were on scene to watch and offer advice.

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Slowly going blind, 3 women work to raise money for a debilitating disease


A small group of Alaska women are preparing to participate in the Ironman Triathlon in Arizona next month.

It's an effort months in the making that's all building toward raising money for a cure to a rare disease called Choroideremia OR CHM.

Only around 6,000 people in the U.S. have the condition but it can be debilitating.

Over the course of one's life eyesight slowly restricts to the point of blindness. Jodi McLaughlin and two other women are actively training for the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile marathon in an effort to raise money to fund clinical gene therapy trials in the U.S. McLaughlin says her team has raised close to $85 thousand so far and hopes to reach a goal of $100,000. 

McLaughlin says there's a lot of hope that a cure will be found. She says she carries the disease but it mostly manifests itself in men.

Her brother, near 40 in age, is losing his eyesight and McLaughlin says there's a 50/50 chance her two daughters will be carriers.

"They know that we're making a contribution toward their future. I mean it's our grandsons one day that will also have this disease if we don't' figure out how to treat it," she said.

The Ironman Triathlon will be held on Nov. 16. McLaughlin and her team along with 50 supports plan to make the trip to Arizona. Team CHM is accepting donations through their website: https://www.classy.org/fundraise?fcid=344895

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Take a break from politics with these 8 great Alaska weather photos


Tired of the election cycle noise? Let's celebrate a different kind of season ... the shift from fall to winter across Alaska. Here are a few recent weather photos sent to us by KTUU viewers all around the state. Be sure to share your best pic too!

Upload photos here or email your pictures to web@ktuu.com.

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Inmate-on-inmate attack suspected in Kenai prison assault


An apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at a Kenai prison is under investigation, according to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers say in a Wednesday dispatch that they first learned of the incident just after 6 p.m. Monday, when they were told that a male inmate from the Wildwood Correctional Center “was being transported to Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna for non-life-threatening injuries after being assaulted.” AST spokesperson Beth Ipsen said Soldotna-based investigators with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation are still learning what happened. “Another inmate is a suspect, but we’re investigating,” Ipsen said. “Nobody has been charged with anything.” A call to the Alaska Department of Corrections requesting comment on the incident wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

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FBI raids Anchorage health care firm in Medicaid fraud investigation


An Anchorage personal-care provider was raided by federal agents Tuesday night, as part of a joint investigation with state prosecutors into alleged Medicaid fraud at the facility. Kevin Donovan, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Anchorage field office, confirmed that agents had seized documents and other materials from a medical care provider -- identified by state authorities as C Care Services. A Channel 2 photographer saw several FBI agents at C Care’s office at 500 E. Tudor Rd Tuesday, loading boxes from the office into an evidence van. Earlier Tuesday, the state Department of Health and Social Services announced that it had suspended Medicaid payments to C Care, pending an investigation of the business as well as owner Cecelia De Leon. “The suspension is temporary, but will remain in effect until the departments of Law or Health and Social Services determines there is insufficient evidence to support a claim of fraud or the legal proceedings related to the alleged fraud are completed,” DHSS officials wrote. “The suspension will become permanent if the individual owner or company is convicted of Medicaid fraud.” Duane Mayes, head of the DHSS’s Division of Seniors and Disabilities Services, listed a wide array of agencies involved in the case Wednesday. “The credible allegation is the result of a joint investigation being conducted by the Alaska Department of Law, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations,” Mayes said in a statement. A call to C Care’s office Thursday wasn’t answered Wednesday afternoon. State officials ask anyone who knows about patients adversely affected by Tuesday’s actions against C Care to contact Adult Protective Services at 1-800-478-9996 or 1-907-269-3666. Channel 2’s Clinton Bennett, David Brooks and Amberia Hill contributed information to this story.

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Stars of ?Alaskan Bush People? reality show charged with felony dividend fraud


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 Snowbird 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.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. Contact reporter Kyle Hopkins at khopkins@ktuu.com. Twitter:  @kylehopkinsak.

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Pebble Partnership sues EPA over contacts with environmentalists


The Pebble Partnership is suing the Environmental Protection Agency in federal court, seeking more details on what it calls “secretive meetings” by the agency with environmental groups and anti-Pebble activists. An Oct. 14 filing in U.S. District Court alleges that the EPA collaborated with anti-Pebble organizations as it prepared to evaluate the proposed gold and copper mine in the Bristol Bay region. Pebble also claims the agency didn’t begin to draft a highly critical assessment of large-scale Bristol Bay mining, initially released in April 2013 and finalized in January, until after it already decided to veto the project. “Moreover, EPA has engaged to date in a series of non-public and secretive meetings with those dedicated to stopping the project before a permitting project could even start,” Pebble attorneys wrote. “Those persons include several environmental non-governmental organizations adamantly opposed to the project.” Pebble claims it filed a Jan. 22 Freedom of Information Act request with the EPA for any communications concerning the project between senior EPA officials, including Administrator Lisa Jackson, and a group of 16 people and organizations. The National Resources Defense Council, Trout Unlimited, the Bristol Bay Native Corp., and Sen. Mark Begich, as well as some of their employees, were listed specifically. So were anti-Pebble activists Alan Boraas and Rick Halford. The EPA ultimately provided some 559 heavily redacted documents by Aug. 11, according to the lawsuit. Pebble filed an appeal Sept. 2 arguing that its request was inadequately filled. Sept. 30 the EPA promised a ruling on that appeal by mid-October, prompting Pebble to determine that it had “exhausted any and all of its administrative remedies.” Mike Heatwole, Pebble Partnership spokesman, said Wednesday that the federal filing is Pebble’s third in an attempt to halt EPA actions likely to block the proposed mine. Other cases include a challenge of the EPA’s authority to regulate Pebble under the Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, as well the EPA’s large-scale Bristol Bay mining assessment. According to Heatwole, the lawsuit attempts to peel back a veil of mystery over what the group considers an organized attempt to stop the mine at the federal level before it can enter the state permitting process. “The basis is that we learned many years ago of the EPA’s attempt to shut us down, and we’ve sought internal documents to understand why,” Heatwole said. “As a result of the limited documents we’ve taken a look at, it’s clear that the work started at least as far back as the summer of 2008.” One of the items included in the FOIA request but not released is a January 2010 slide presentation to Jackson by EPA's Region 10 staff. Heatwole said Pebble has copies of the presentation itself, which calls for a preemptive EPA shutdown of the Pebble project in its final slide, but never received any of Jackson's emails in its FOIA complaint from the time leading up to the presentation or immediately afterward.

“They’ve not released one email from the administrator relevant to Pebble,” Heatwole said. “For an open and transparent process, they’ve been very reluctant to put them in the public space.” While the court filing lists several other specific documents sent to EPA and requested but not released, Heatwole said the partnership doesn’t have specific information on what Pebble correspondence between Begich and the EPA might exist. “That’s what we’d like to know,” Heatwole said. “Certainly it would be of interest, since the senator had said for a long time that the EPA should not preemptively stop this project, and since he’s not taken a position against the EPA’s actions.” Begich’s press secretary, Heather Handyside, issued a statement Wednesday sharply questioning Pebble’s lawsuit. She said a recent tailings dam breach at Canada’s Mount Polley mine has shown that “the risk is just too great” for a similar open-pit project and tailings pool at Pebble. “The Pebble Partnership has ignored the voices of Alaska Natives and Bristol Bay fishermen and now it is ignoring the results of its own FOIA request,” Handyside wrote. “Sen. Begich is a big supporter of natural resource development in Alaska but the science has shown that Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place.” In addition to attorney’s fees and any further relief approved by the court, Pebble seeks EPA release of “any and all documents wrongfully withheld or redacted that are responsive to the FOIA request.” “What we’re trying to do is get all the pieces of the puzzle,” Heatwole said. EPA spokeswoman Hanady Kader declined to comment on the Pebble Partnership lawsuit Wednesday since it is “a litigation-related matter.” Kader referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice. Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the exact date and context of a 2010 slide presentation reportedly given to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Channel 2’s Kyle Hopkins contributed information to this story.

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APD says 2 missing girls, 11, found safe


Anchorage police are looking for a pair of 11-year-old girls last seen in the Mountain View area Tuesday morning, with few leads available on their possible location.

APD spokesperson Jennifer Castro said Katelynn Shelhamer and Makayla Savage were reported located to APD dispatchers as of about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.

"They were found and they are safe, so all is well," Castro said.

Shelhamer and Savage were reported missing early Wednesday after being last seen at Clark Middle School at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The girls didn’t come home overnight Tuesday, and were reported missing early Wednesday by a family member.

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Assemblyman proposes 'Bill of Rights' for victims of predatory tow truck companies


Assemblyman Dick Traini says the Ombudsman's office has been flooded with complaints about unfair towing practices. And he's taking action.

In this story:

-- Anchorage drivers complain that some tow truck operators practice"predatory towing," impounding cars and charging outlandish fees before people can reclaim their vehicle.

-- Midtown Assemblyman Dick Traini has proposed changes to city law that would He calls it a "towing bill of rights" aimed at capping impound fees at $250 and allow drivers to retrieve their belongings out of vehicles that have been impounded.

-- Tow truck operators say only a few companies have operated poorly, and that Traini's proposal could add unnecessary new regulations for many.

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Rep. Don Young apologizes after suicide comment


U.S. Rep. Don Young has apologized after telling students at a high school where a child recently committed suicide that people kill themselves when there's a lack of support from family and friends. Wasilla High School Principal Amy Spargo says students and adults at the assembly took offense because it was as if they were being blamed. She says after that, the event became more confrontational. Spargo says she went for the microphone when a response by Young to gay marriage, which he opposes, seemed to rile students further. Young, the longest serving Republican in the House, has a history of colorful - sometimes offensive - quips, and has made headlines recently more for gaffes than policy. His office told the Alaska Dispatch News that the congressman should have been more sensitive.

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Suspected impaired driver charged with assault in Wasilla crash


A Wasilla man suspected of driving while impaired with two people in his car has been charged with felony assault after they were hurt in a crash. Alaska State Troopers say 44-year-old John Murtha was arrested Monday night. He remains in custody at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility. Troopers took a call just before 10 p.m. Monday that a car had crashed into a utility pole on Forest Lake Drive outside Wasilla. Troopers say the car crossed the opposite lane and hit the pole. The two passengers were taken to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. Murtha was charged Tuesday with the felony assault counts and a misdemeanor driving under the influence count. His bail was set at $15,000. Online court documents did not indicate that he was represented by an attorney.

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Palins describe Anchorage brawl in police recordings


Bristol Palin describes being dragged through the grass and called a series of obscenities during a massive brawl last month in recordings of Anchorage police interviews obtained by KTUU and CNN through records requests.

Audio Clip One

"A guy comes out of nowhere and pushes me on the ground, takes me by my feet in my dress -- in my thong dress in front of everybody -- [and says] 'Come on you c***, get the f*** out of here. Come on you s***, get the f*** out of here," she said.

No charges were filed as a result of the September brawl.

(Editor's Note: The following audio clips contain language that some may find offensive.)

Other people interviewed by police described the Palins as instigators in a brawl that also reportedly included Track Palin and his father, Todd, fighting several men.

They said Bristol Palin punched Klingenmeyer several times before he restrained her.

Klingenmeyer said he'd approached Todd Palin to say that "your daughter's out of line" and that he should get the situation under control. That didn't happen.

Audio Clip Two

"I told 'em all to get the hell out of here and go home," he said.

He said the altercation with Bristol Palin started after she insisted she was going to beat another woman up.

"I said 'this is my house, we're not having this,'" Klingenmeyer said. "She freakin' goes, 'I'll kick your a**.'"

He said Bristol Palin punched him several times, and then he grabbed her fist, made a motion that isn't described verbally, and then she "fell down."

Audio Clip Three

Sarah Palin can apparently be heard in the background during some of the interviews. At one point, she complained that her children were being "made to feel like the bad guys."

She also criticizes Klingenmeyer, saying: "What would he be doin' pushin' girls around, though?"

Matthew McKenna, whose birthday was the reason for the party, told police that people had gotten "drunk and stupid" -- and that he had video of the altercation, but wouldn't share it.

"I know everyone here, and it's just an unfortunate deal," he said.

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To protect leaping moose, Anchorage Assembly bans spiked 'palisade' fences


The Anchorage Assembly limited the city’s building code Tuesday night in a move meant to prevent rare but grisly moose deaths, narrowly approving a ban on spiked palisade fences. A 6-5 vote approved the measure, proposed in July by Assembly member Jennifer Johnston. At the time, Anchorage biologist Jessy Coltrane with the state Department of Fish and Game estimated that one or two moose were killed by the fences annually, with locations such as the Atwood Manor and Estate and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson seeing multiple moose deaths. Prior to Tuesday’s vote Coltrane testified that palisade fences still kill local moose, when they try to step over the fences’ edges and become impaled on the upward-facing spikes. Those opposed to the ban told the Assembly that it constituted too much government interference, noting that many more moose are killed each year by cars on local roads -- a point Johnston agreed with in July. The new ordinance only affects new construction, and existing fences would be allowed to stand.

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Fairbanks schools won't suspend recruitment


Administrators in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna school districts have suspended military recruiting at schools after allegations of sexual advances by recruiters but officials in Fairbanks say they have no plans to limit visits. Fairbanks school board President Heidi Haas tells the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner she's not concerned about problems with recruiters at district schools. She says no instances of misconduct were reported in Fairbanks and the district has procedures in place for school staff to report concerns. Anchorage School Superintendent Ed Graff placed a moratorium on visits after news reports that at least one Alaska National Guard recruiter had made unwelcome advances on high school students in schools. Graff said Monday student safety is the district's top priority. The Mat-Su district suspended visits Tuesday.

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Anchorage Ride-Sharing Debate Continued


Dozens of cabbies lined before the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night, many of them upset over the presence of the ride-sharing company Uber.

UBER began service in Anchorage more than a month ago.  Drivers use their own cars to pick up passengers using the company’s App.  Proceeds from the fare go to the drivers and Uber which operates in more than 200 cities and 40 countries.

Critics say Uber violates Title 11, which governs taxi permits and licensing throughout Anchorage.

"We have to have regulation, everything has to have regulation, permit holder Linda Taylor told the Assembly.  “Just to come in here like the spandex cowboy and say that's the way it's going to be, that's just not going to work."

Uber is hoping to work out a compromise with the Assembly and the taxi cab drivers so it can continue to operate in Anchorage.

“Uber is very different than a taxi, it is still taking someone from point A to point B, however these are non-commercial vehicles on the road 24-7, we do not wait in taxi zones,” said General Manager Brooke Steger.

Public hearings on whether Title 11 should be changed to accommodate Uber will continue November 18th.

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State: flu will be more common than Ebola


Health officials say there is a deadly virus sweeping across our country and it's not Ebola, it's influenza. 

The State of Alaska is recommending everyone to get their flu vaccine as soon as possible. 

"The number of people we will see affected with Ebola will be low. Whereas people becoming ill with influenza and potentially becoming hospitalized and dying from influenza is very high," says Chief of Epidemiology Dr. Joe McLaughlin. 

According to Mclaughlin Alaska has already seen a handful of flu reports. While flu season typically peaks in January and February he says it's not uncommon to see reports in October. 

The flu vaccine is available in both nasal spray and an injection. Dr. Mclaughlin says neither will cause you get sick from the flu but since they each take a few weeks to build immunity in your body you may contract the virus anyways. 

That's why he recommends getting vaccinated early. Dr. McLaughlin says influenza is highly contagious.

"If someone were to cough or sneeze in your general vicinity, say within 3 to 5 feet of you, you can become infected that way," said McLaughlin.

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Mat-Su Borough superintendent suspends military recruiting in schools


The Mat-Su Borough School District temporarily suspended military recruitment in its schools, a day after the Anchorage School District did so in response to findings of misconduct by Alaska National Guard recruiters. MSBSD spokesperson Catherine Esary says in a Tuesday statement that the decision by Superintendent Dr. Deena Paramo followed “the recent reports of allegations of misconduct by Alaska Army National Guard recruiters on schools campuses in Anchorage.” Paramo mirrored language used by ASD Superintendent Ed Graff Monday, when he said his district was “currently reviewing our practices around all staff concerning student safety.” “We value the partnership with our military,” Paramo said in the statement, “but we feel it is prudent to review procedures in the interest of establishing consistency and expectations.” Leaked military reports on investigations into the Alaska National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion include a series of claims involving recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Tallant -- such as trying to date a high-school freshman, who later got into his car when she was 17 but jumped out as he tried to take her to his home. Paramo says school officials met Tuesday to consider the decision after word came down of Anchorage's suspension of military recruiting in schools, but the Mat-Su decision was ultimately based on "the idea that an individual caused this, but a system is responsible for it."

"All this information that's coming out -- not just the sexual assaults, but that it's reached recruiters," Paramo said. "There seems to be a system problem with the (Alaska) National Guard that's affecting our kids."

According to Paramo, leaked reports that recruiters encouraged underage drinking and had sex with women inside a recruiting station at the Dimond Center mall in Anchorage also played a role.

"What was reported at (the Dimond Center) hit especially close to home," Paramo said.

Tuesday's suspension will also affect Army recruiters from West Point touring the state this week.

Recruiters have been contacted to meet with Paramo, in a schedule beginning next week. Paramo said she hopes to allow the military back onto campus but didn't have a timeframe for when that would happen, pending discussions with individual recruiters.

"That really depends on the conversations we have next week," Paramo said. This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.

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Elders & Youth: Meet 5 young people thinking about Alaska's future


Meet five of of the young people in Anchorage today for the First Alaskans Institute Elders & Youth Conference. We asked the delegates, ages 11 to 23, to tell us about their hometowns, the biggest problems facing rural Alaska and how they plan to make things better.

The Elders & Youth Conference began Monday and launches the largest gathering of Alaska Natives in the state. The Alaska Federation of Natives conference begins 8:30 a.m. Thursday. With Alaska about to choose new statewide leaders and the most expensive political battle in state history now bombarding airwaves, the Friday candidate forum is expected to be among the main events.

Read the conference agenda here. 

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Butane hash oil concerns


Opponents of legalizing marijuana show off what they say is one of the dangerous consequences of pot legalization.

In this story: -Vote No on 2, Big Marijuana Big Mistake, brings up a Captain in the Aurora Colorado Fire Department, to demonstrate the dangers of butane hash oil explosions. - Since pot was legalized in January, Colorado has seen more than 30 confirmed explosions, a number more than doubled in 2013. -Vote Yes on 2, the campaign to regulate marijuana like alcohol, says the regulation of marijuana will provide a disincentive to making hash oil at home. -Hash oil, which is primarily used by medical marijuana users, is said to be easier on the lungs and easier to control the dosage.

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Decorative tusks, bone taken from Juneau thrift shore


JUNEAU — Church officials have reported the theft of ivory elephant tusks and whale bone from a thrift store in Juneau.

The Holy Trinity Episcopal Church runs the downtown shop and reported the theft to police Saturday.

The Juneau Empire reports the tusks were described as being carved with lines of little elephants. The whale bone bore a carving of an Alaska Native woman holding a child.

Lt. David Campbell, a police spokesman, said the tusks were being sold at the shop for $150 each and the whale bone for $450. He said police had no leads and had found no signs of forced entry.

Church Administrator Alison Talley said the store normally does not experience much theft. But she said someone recently stole a homemade donation box.

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