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Two Fairbanks Residents Killed in Parks Highway Crash


Alaska State Troopers have named the two Fairbanks residents killed in Monday night’s head-on Parks Highway crash, which also sent two people to Anchorage with serious injuries. In an AST dispatch early Tuesday, troopers say 33-year-old driver Dontaveon Green and 23-year-old passenger Patricia Williams died at Mile 152 of the highway at about 5:50 p.m., when a vehicle entered the southbound lane and struck their 2000 Saturn SL. “Investigation found a 2003 Lincoln Navigator driven by Wilton Florencio Villa, age 27 of Anchorage, was southbound on the Parks Highway with one passenger,” troopers wrote. “The Lincoln Navigator crossed into the opposing lane of travel and collided head on with the Saturn.” Villa and his passenger were medevaced by LifeMed air ambulance to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage for treatment. AST spokesperson Megan Peters had said Monday night that troopers were conducting a full investigation into the cause of the collision.

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

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Democratic Party Leaders Back Walker-Mallott Ticket


In a step toward forging a Democratic-independent alliance against Gov. Sean Parnell and his GOP running mate, Dan Sullivan, the state Democratic Party's Central Committee voted overwhelmingly Monday to endorse a merged gubernatorial ticket.

While the 88-2 evening vote does not formally join up Democratic candidate Byron Mallott with independent Bill Walker, the endorsement -- a day ahead of the Sept. 2 deadline to make any changes to the ticket -- indicates that the linkage is likely.

Alaska Democratic Party spokesperson Zack Fields says the merged ticket, if approved, will include Walker for governor and Mallott for lieutenant governor.

Reached for comment by phone Monday night, Walker says the move will leave partisanship behind.

"It's all about Alaska's future -- it's all about what's best for Alaska, Alaska's future stepping above party politics," Walker said.

Some projections by political analysts have shown Mallott and Walker splitting the opposition vote to Parnell, clearing the way to another term by the Republican incumbent.

Officials with both Mallott and Walker's campaigns had refused to say anything Monday about the fate of Democratic lieutenant-governor candidate Hollis French, who left his state Senate seat and easily garnered the nomination to run alongside Mallott during the state's Aug. 19 primaries.

The campaigns plan to make a joint statement Tuesday.

Channel 2's Caslon Hatch and Rebecca Palsha, as well as KNOM's Matt Smith contributed information to this story.

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

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Labor Day Sparks Debate Over Minimum Wage


Known as the working people's holiday, this year's Labor Day has sparked debates all over the country and here in Alaska over minimum wage.

Alaskans are set to vote on a $1 increase this November as part of Ballot Measure 3.

But how could that impact minimum wage workers in the state?

Even though Alaska's minimum wage of $7.75 an hour is 50 cents higher than the federal requirement, when your talking survival, that small increase could mean a lot.

A day serving customers at Moose's Tooth is not as easy as it looks.

Server Chris Schnell says there are a lot of steps, sweat, and service involved in earning a single hour's wage.

Alaska's minimum wage is $7.75 an hour.

"You can have a family of six and they will just get one pizza, and the tab will be $30, so you have to really work hard to turn tables and make more money," said Schnell.

Increasing Alaskans income is the goal of Ballot Measure 3.

If it passes this November it would raise minimum wage by a dollar to $8.75 an hour as of January 1st, a year later, another increase to $9.75 an hour in January 2016, followed by inflation adjustments every year thereafter.

One group, the Alaskans Need a Raise Coalition points out that 19 other states top Alaska's minimum wage despite the state's inflation rate.

"I think we all know that Alaska has a much higher cost of living," said Joelle Hall who is part of the Alaskans Need a Raise Coalition. "There's a floor in which a worker should not be able to fall, that floor is the minimum wage," continued Hall.

The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce opposes the proposed increase saying in a statement quote "Employers and workers, not the government, should determine the value of labor, based on labor availability and its contribution to the earnings of the business."

And business at the Moose's Tooth is good.

Something that patrons hope trickles down to the employees.

"Your working and you should get something for that because you are working really hard to get money," said customer Miles Harlan.

"Twenty extra dollars a paycheck I mean that always helps for paying bills, to pay your phone bill, pay whatever," said Schnell.

And when voters make a decision in November on Ballot Measure 3, many minimum wage earners are hoping for their fair share of the pie.

Some economists in Alaska have argued that raising the minimum wage will hurt job creation and lead to higher unemployment numbers.

But the group Alaskans Need a Raise Coalition say that the last time the minimum wage went up in Alaska, more money went into the economy and less people were on government assistance.

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Rainy Summer in Fairbanks Forecast to Get Wetter


The city of Fairbanks has already endured its rainiest summer on record, and a turn of the calendar to September just means more of the same.

A National Weather Service advisory for Monday says a weather system bearing wind and heavy rain is heading into Interior Alaska from the northwest.

Heavy rain is in the forecast from the Nulato Hills east to the Fairbanks area and along the Alaska Range.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://is.gd/LrWgqV ) the heaviest rain is expected to fall between Fairbanks and Denali National Park and Preserve.

The Chena, Little Chena and Chatanika rivers are expected to rise sharply on Tuesday. Other streams in the mountains and Denali area are also expected to rise, with flooding possible. Rock and mudslides may occur in steep terrain.

___

Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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Democrats Weigh Merged Gubernatorial Campaign


Leaders of the Alaska Democratic Party will meet on Labor Day to make a decision that could change the makeup of the gubernatorial race.

Byron Mallott, picked as the nominee in the August 19 primary election, and Independent Bill Walker have recently been in talks about merging campaigns to unify opposition to incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican.

Candidates and staffers confirmed to Channel 2 that a 6:30 p.m. meeting of the party's executive committee will formally decide whether the party prefers to march forward into a three-way contest or instead shift to a unified effort.

Some members will attend by phone, and others will attend in person, according to a party spokesperson.

Laury Scandling, a spokesperson for Mallott, said that talks were ongoing but an update she provided "represents both campaigns."

"A number of formalized steps must yet occur to create a unified ticket," she said. "The steps have to do with requirements associated with the Democratic Party and the Division of Elections."

A press availability is scheduled for noon Tuesday.

Channel 2's Austin Baird contributed to this story

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Man Accused of Driving Drunk with 7 Children


A man is accused of driving drunk with seven young children in his truck on Labor Day Weekend.

Alaska State Troopers at 8:43 p.m. Saturday received a report of an intoxicated driver near Point Mackenzie Road and Lu Young Lane.

Troopers stopped a 1999 Ford F350 near Knik Goose Bay and Homestead roads in Wasilla, and they found seven "small" children unsecured in the truck operated by Kile Thimsen, 33.

He was "severely intoxicated," troopers wrote in a dispatch.

Thimsen is charged with driving under the influence, reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, seven counts of child endangerment and seven counts of reckless endangerment.

He was remanded to Mat-Su Pretrial Facility where he was held without bail.

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Murder Victims? Family Lawyer Asks Senate Candidates to Stop Running Ads


Updated Sunday Evening:

Anchorage- On Friday, Democratic Senator Mark Begich's campaign ran an ad decrying the light sentence that suspected killer Jerry Active received before he was accused of killing an elderly couple and sexually assaulting their great granddaughter.

The Sullivan campaign rana counter ad calling Begich's ad disgraceful.

Late this afternoon, Sullivan's campaign agreed to take down it's ad, while the Begich campaign agreed late this evening to alter the initial ad by taking out any reference to the Jerry Active case.

The attorney for the family, Bryon Collins said he fears the ads from both campaigns could potentially taint a jury pool for the upcoming trial.

"."

The jerry Active case is scheduled to go to trial in September.

Original Story published Sunday afternoon:

An attorney representing the family members of a slain elderly couple have asked the candidates for senate to quit running ads that cite the crimes.

The campaign for Republican candidate Dan Sullivan said they would remove the ads from the airwaves. Democratic Senator Mark Begich’s campaign said it wants to have another conversation with the family.

The controversy stems from an ad released by the Begich campaign on Friday in which a retired police officer points to the home where Sorn Sreap and Touch Chea were brutally murdered last year. In the ad, the police officer said that as attorney general, Sullivan let sex offenders get off with light sentences. Then the officers points out the crime scene where the couple was killed.

The Sullivan campaign released an ad shortly after. In the second ad, Dan Sullivan disparages the Begich campaign for using the crimes as part of a political statement.

An attorney for the family, Bryon Collins said that he’s concerned about how so much publicity to the case might affect the trial which is currently scheduled for September. Collins said he requested both campaigns quit running the ad.

The Sullivan campaign agreed saying in a written statement, “Mark Begich began this distasteful and offensive debate, and our campaign is pleased we could play a role along with the victims' attorney to end it."

The Begich campaign did not agree to quit running its ad. The campaign says it wants to have a conversation with the family. Its statement said, “Sullivan is trying to distract from his record as attorney general of giving light sentences to sex offenders. The current attorney general subsequently changed sentencing rules for serious crimes like sexual assault. We have reached out to the family about our ad."

Collins said as the family’s representative, he’s pleased Sullivan’s campaign agreed to take down the ad.

“We appreciate Dan Sullivan’s decision and we look forward Sen. Mark Begich's office doing the same,” Collins said. 

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Four People Unhurt in Plane Crash near Lake Hood


Four people are uninjured after their plane crashed on takeoff from Anchorage’s Lake Hood airstrip Sunday evening. Reports came in shortly after 6 p.m. of the DeHavilland Beaver’s crash, in the wooded area just north of the airstrip and south of Northern Lights Boulevard. National Transportation Safety Board investigators at the scene say the aircraft’s engine lost power at an altitude of about 100 feet. After an unsuccessful attempt to restart the engine, the pilot reportedly made the decision to put the plane down in the trees about 150 yards past the runway. According to NTSB investigator Chris Shaver, the pilot made the right decision and couldn't have done anything differently based on initial findings. “As a safety professional, we always tend to tell folks that if they do have a problem, especially right after takeoff from a runway, go straight ahead -- don't try and turn back around to try and get to the airport -- and that's exactly what he did,” Shaver said. “He flew the airplane all the way to the ground, and I'm pretty confident that's one of the reasons they all walked away.” Investigators will spend the next few days looking over the engine, including when it was built and its last maintenance check. There is no word yet on when crews will be able to remove the plane from the area.

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'One is Too Many:" Adding Up Alaska's Inmate Deaths


Alaska Department of Corrections Director Joe Schmidt says “one is too many” -- but do the number of deaths in Alaska’s prisons reflect the status quo, or a neglect of care for incarcerated Alaskans?

Based on 2010 prison and census records, the national prisoner mortality rate average was .217 percent of the U.S. prison population. Alaska was only slightly above that, with a prisoner mortality rate of .23 percent. In actual figures, that number represents the deaths of 13 inmates that year in a prison population of 5,597.

Comparatively, Hawaii had a similar prison population of 5,912, with 12 inmate deaths that year. Nebraska also had 12 inmates die, out of a population of 4,587.

Since 2010, the prison population under Alaska Department of Corrections custody has fluctuated between 6,114 and the most recently recorded number, 5,087. Since January 1, nine prisoners have died, placing this year’s prisoner mortality rate at a tentative .176 percent. Over the last 15 years, the inmate death rate has fluctuated between four and 14, averaging roughly nine inmates a year since 2000.

But what do those numbers actually reflect in terms of human life?

Between 2001 and 2011, the five leading causes of death in Alaska facilities were -- in order -- heart disease, suicide, illness (other than liver, heart or respiratory disease, or cancer), cancer, and liver disease.  Eight deaths since 2010 were suicides, and only four deaths were listed as traumas, which the DOC is the classification used when an inmate is intentionally or accidentally killed by another inmate.

“We didn’t find anything anomalous with this series of deaths this year, including the number of deaths,” Schmidt said at a recent public hearing on inmate deaths. “We lose between 10 and 12 a year.”

The families of at least two former inmates, however, believe not enough was done for their loved ones while in the care of DOC personnel.

Earlier this year in April, 20-year-old Davon Mosley was found dead in his cell at the Anchorage Jail. An initial autopsy revealed Mosley’s death was the result of internal bleeding from multiple intestinal ulcers. His family, doubting the DOC’s claims regarding Mosley’s death, hired an attorney and paid for an independent autopsy, which corroborated the first autopsy. Photos of Mosley’s body were allegedly taken at that time, and displayed scarring and bruising the family claims was from his time in the Anchorage Jail.

“I want to know why when Davon went to jail he looked like this,” said Mosley’s girlfriend Vernesia Gordon, referencing the photos. “And when we got him back, he looked like this, with bruises everywhere on his body.”

Amanda Kernak, 24, became another high-profile inmate death this spring when she was found unconscious and not breathing on the floor of her cell on April 10. Kernak was arrested after crashing into her boyfriend’s vehicle while intoxicated, and remanded with a blood-alcohol content over 0.3.

Kernak’s cell mate on April 8 said Kernak was violently ill throughout the day. According to the DOC, Kernak was too ill to be moved to Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility. DOC spokesperson Kaci Schroeder confirmed that Kernak had received the advanced intake health screening, but couldn’t say if information regarding a recent heart attack and prescribed medication for a heart condition had been reported by Kernak to medical staff.

“The manner of death [for Kernak] was found to be from natural causes secondary to complications of severe liver disease,” said DOC Deputy Director Sherrie Daigle of Kernak’s final autopsy report. “The department investigates every unexpected in custody death, but the final results of an investigation will not be known until the State Medical Examiner’s office completes an autopsy.”

Cea Anderson, the mother of Kirsten Simon, whose autopsy is pending after her June 6 death in DOC custody, also wondered if more could have been done to prevent her daughter’s death.

“I’m just wondering if she’d still be here today,” Anderson said. “That’s my question.”

The most recent death in Alaska’s prisons this year has been that of Robert Hansen, a serial killer believed to have killed between 17 and 21 women and serving a life sentence with over 400 years attached. While the specific illness has not been elaborated on due to HIPAA restrictions, Hansen, 75, is believed to have died from symptoms related to a long-term illness he was being treated for; Alaska State Troopers report he had do-not-resuscitate paperwork on file, and his body is pending autopsy.

Hansen is one of seven deaths considered to be medically related out of the nine. Of the remaining two, inmate Mark Bolus, 24, is believed to have committed suicide, while 29-year-old Elihu Gillespie’s death was ruled a homicide at the hand of another inmate.

To DOC Deputy Health Director Laura Brooks, every inmate’s life matters. She says steps are taken to help stop preventable deaths whenever possible, even from the moment an offender is brought in by the arresting officer.

“Everyone in any facility gets a health care screening [following their arrest],” Brooks said. “That involves questions about their medical history, that involves questions about any medication they might be taking, our medical staff will take their vital signs, and so on and so forth.”

Nearly 2,000 inmates are transported every year to local hospitals and clinics for outside appointments, and almost 600 of those required emergency treatment. With round-the-clock medical personnel as well as transportation to local hospitals available at each facility, Brooks believes every inmate has the chance to be treated by a medical professional for any condition.

For many inmates, it’s a new experience.

According to Brooks, who has worked for 17 years in the medical field within the DOC, many new inmates had never been seen by a physician prior to their arrest, and are diagnosed with various health and mental conditions for the first time while in custody.

“It’s really not unusual for us to see a woman in her third trimester get prenatal care for the first time after she gets arrested, for someone to have their first dental checkup in a decade in custody, or even for somebody who’s severely mentally ill to be diagnosed and treated for the first time in corrections,” Brooks said. “Our population comes to us with a serious lack of medical care on the outside, and so for many of them, they’re receiving health care for the first time after getting arrested.”

Along with the possibility for increased or first time access to healthcare, Brooks says prisoners also enjoy the right to doctor/patient confidentiality, but that many are either unaware of this or don’t believe it.

“They’re hesitant to tell us what medications they’ve been abusing, what kind of even prescription medications they’ve been abusing, or what kind of street drugs they have been using,” Brooks said. “They think they’re going to get another charge. We do our best to try to reassure them that that piece of what we do is confidential, but still I think there’s a definite wall there between the offender and the medical staff when they come in.”

Sometimes that wall could mean trouble for the patient.

“We need to get as accurate a history of their medical background as we possibly can, so we know as soon as possible what we may or may not be dealing with,” Brooks said. “If they don’t tell us, we have no way of knowing. And a lot of times they are reluctant to discuss that information with us. If we don’t know what it is that we’re supposed to be treating, we can’t treat it.”

Both Mosley and Kernak’s families testified at the public hearing, led by a legislative panel seeking new ways to prevent inmate deaths in the future. After weeks of investigations into the deaths and public testimony, the DOC released a new policy outlining how future deaths would be handled.

As of August 6, the Department of Safety will be able to notify the public via the media in cases where information does not impede their investigation, and the cause of death will be more readily available. Investigations by law enforcement will also be implemented, rather than being done by DOC employees. A previous version of the policy was revised in 2008, and DOC officials say they are hopeful that the latest version will provide more transparency for inmates’ families and the general public.

“There’s many folks who were interested; some folks in the legal field, some folks in the media, but our primary concern was the families,” Schmidt said. “The new policy doesn’t include a lot of new pieces. It just codifies a lot of little pieces.”

The new policy is the latest in steps taken by DOC to improve inmate health and security. The DOC reported also adding new medical personnel, and increasing training for all personnel, particularly to be able to identify at risk prisoners.

Along with physical health screenings and treatment, each facility is staffed with mental health professionals and psychiatrists who are trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses across the spectrum. Other DOC personnel are trained in CPR and other lifesaving techniques, and every staff member is encouraged to report signs of suicidal thoughts in any inmate.

“They’re really our eyes and ears because they see these individuals every day, for hours and hours every day,” Brooks said. “So often times, they’re the first ones who are going to notice a change in behavior with somebody who’s been with us for a while.”

But not every death is preventable, Brooks says.

“[We] don’t know how to prevent every death that occurs in our system,” Brooks said. “These inmates, so many of these inmates come to us with multiple physical ailments that are further complicated by years of substance abuse, untreated mental illness…sometimes they’re not preventable. We really struggle with that.”

Editor's note: An initial version of this story inaccurately naming Cea Anderson as the mother of deceased inmate Amanda Kernak has been corrected.

KTUU's Chris Klint, Piet VanWeel, Mallory Peebles, Abby Hancock, and Adam Pinsker contributed to this story.

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Rural Alaska Community Suffering from US Post Office Closure


Residents of the rural northern community of Wainwright say they are struggling after the closure of the local U.S. Post Office more than two weeks ago.

Robert Grimes, principal of Alak School in Wainwright, said the closure has caused several families in the school and the community to be cut off from their mail, often including paychecks, food, and other essential items flown in from other cities in Alaska.

“I have teachers that are running out of medications, out of food, need to pay bills, get there checks, etc.,” Grimes said in an email Sunday. “It is the same for the people in the village. There are no roads out here. We do get small planes out here twice a day but it you have to ship stuff in cargo. It's very expensive; the mail is subsidized and that's how everything comes through.”

Grimes has contacted several officials, from USPS employees to U.S. senators. Committee Aide to House C&RA Kimberly Clark from the office of Rep. Benjamin Nageak (D-40, Arctic), shed some light on the closure of the post office. In an email to Grimes, she stated USPS employees did not have the Wainwright post office on a list of expected closures.

An email from Sen. Mark Begich’s (D-AK) office forwarded the USPS’s reason for the closure. Following the loss of the previous Postmaster, a replacement had still not been found.

“Unfortunately, we are experiencing challenges with finding a Postmaster or Postmaster Relief who is available and willing to fly in to Wainwright and Levelock to operate the local Post Offices,” said USPS spokesperson Dawn Peppinger.

“When you shut down the post office, you shut down the lifeline.” Grimes said. “We're not getting food. We're not getting mail, we're not getting medications. All that stuff is held.” 

Interested Wainwright residents can apply to work as Postmaster Relief by calling (907) 261-5450.

The Wainwright post office serves the communities of Wainwright, which has a population of roughly 575 people. 

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US Trained Alaskans as Secret 'Stay-Behind Agents'


Early in the Cold War, there were fears Russia might invade and occupy Alaska — then a U.S. territory.

So Washington recruited and trained fishermen, bush pilots, trappers and other private citizens across Alaska for a covert network to feed wartime intelligence to the military.

That's what newly declassified Air Force and FBI documents show.

One FBI memo said the U.S. military believed it would be an airborne invasion involving bombing and the dropping of paratroopers.

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover teamed on a classified project — code-named "Washtub" — with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

The plan was to have citizen-agents in Alaska ready to hide from the invaders.

The citizen-agents would find their way to survival caches of food, cold-weather gear, message-coding material and radios.

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Moderate Earthquake Hits Region Near Fairbanks


The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit 43 miles northwest of Fairbanks on Saturday night.

The center says no reports of damage have been received about the earthquake. It adds that the earthquake hit at 7:06 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time and had a depth of 10 miles.

It was widely felt in the Fairbanks and North Pole areas and as far as Healy and Manley Hot Springs. Residents told the newspaper that they felt shaking for about 10 seconds.

The earthquake center says that on Aug. 13 a light earthquake with a magnitude of 4.4 struck the state's Cook Inlet region. That quake, recorded at 10:04 p.m. Alaska time, was centered about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage at a depth of about 82 miles.

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49er Ray McDonald Accused of Domestic Violence


Police in Northern California say San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald has been arrested on domestic violence charges. 

San Jose police Sgt. Heather Randol says the 29-year-old defensive end was taken into custody early Sunday after officers responded to a home in an upscale neighborhood. McDonald was jailed on felony domestic violence charges. Santa Clara County sheriff's Sgt. Kurt Stenderup says McDonald was released after posting bail. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties last week for players accused of domestic violence. San Francisco 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said in a statement Sunday that the team takes "such matters" seriously but isn't commenting on the allegations involving McDonald without more information. McDonald has been playing for San Francisco since he was drafted as a third-round pick in 2007.

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Senate Campaign Heats Up In Alaska


The most recent spat of ads from the top candidates for U.S. Senate attempts to connect republican nominee Dan Sullivan to a 2013 murder case.

Sullivan's campaign calls the U.S. Senator Mark Begich ad distasteful, while the Democrats claim an oversight on Sullivan's part could have helped a dangerous criminal go free.

The ads refer to the 2013 murder case where Jerry Active was accused of murdering an elderly couple and sexually assaulting their 2-year-old great grand daughter just hours after being released from jail for another violent crime.

While Active faced charges, the Department of Law released a time line of Active's records that showed Jerry Active received a lighter sentence than he should have based on a mistake made in 2009.

The Begich campaign released a statement showing Active's plea deal from 2010 with Sullivan's stamp on the ad. The Sullivan campaign called Begich's ad in poor taste.

Sullivan released a commercial countering what Begich's ad had said.

"Mark Begich's lies about this tragedy are shameful," Sullivan tells the camera in his ad.

"Shameful" was used by Sullivan campaign manager Ben Sparks to describe the commercial.

"This is about human decency," Sparks said. "This was wrong, and Begich knows it was wrong."

The Begich campaign counters it was just holding Sullivan accountable for his record as attorney general.

"Sullivan is trying to blame folks that went before him but he approved the plea deal. He was the attorney general," said Zack Fields, Alaska Democrats spokesperson.

While the candidates battle across the airwaves, Jerry Active is in jail awaiting sentencing. The families of the victims, Sorn Sreap and Touch Chea could not be reached for comment on this issue.

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Fairbanks Police Chief: Down to 2 Finalists


The city of Fairbanks narrowed its search for a new police chief to two finalists.

In an email to city employees, the finalists were identified as Fairbanks Police Lt. Eric Jewkes and Randall Aragon, the police chief in La Marque, Texas, a small city south of Houston.

The last round of job interviews will be a public forum scheduled for Sept. 29.

The city has been looking for a new chief since Laren Zager retired in July.

Jewkes was raised in Fairbanks and North Pole, and returned to Alaska after going to college in Mississippi. He has been with the Fairbanks department for 20 years.

Aragon has worked as a police chief in four states and has 35 years of civilian law enforcement experience.

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Alaska Food Resource Group to Meet in Fairbanks


An Alaska state panel created to increase the consumption and purchase of local farm products and wild seafood has scheduled a meeting next week in Fairbanks.

The Alaska Food Resource Working Group is seeking testimony from the meat processing industry at the meeting taking place from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday.

Members of the group include representatives of eight state agencies.

The group is led by the state Department of Natural Resources and was created to recommend policies and measures.

The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the conference room of the Fairbanks Regional Public Health Center.

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Temporary brown bear hunting closure opposed


A proposed temporary closure of brown bear hunting inside the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is drawing opposition.

Federal officials have proposed closing brown bear hunting this season to give the population a chance to recover. Citing state data, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says 168 brown bears, including 42 adult sows, have been killed in the last three years.

To date this year, 54 brown bears have been killed, including five adult sows. Fish and Game has set a cap to not exceed 70 bears and that adult sow mortalities not exceed 17.

But locals at a hearing about the closure said Fish and Wildlife Service is overstepping control with a proposed closure on the refuge. State fish and game officials say federal officials are not considering complaints from locals who say encounters with brown bears are increasing.

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Palmer Man Dies Despite Search and Rescue Efforts


A search and rescue effort late Thursday night ended with the loss of a Palmer man, Alaska State Troopers say.

Troopers received a report of a missing person at 10:32 p.m. from an address on Palmer-Fishhook Road in Palmer. Two men had gotten lost in in the Hatcher Pass Management area and attempted to cross the Little Susitna River. One of those men, 74-year-old Yong Soo Kim, fell and was swept down river. 

Palmer Fire and Rescue personnel were on scene at 10:36 p.m. and located Kim 50 meters downriver from his last known location. Kim was found unresponsive, and resuscitation efforts were attempted.

Kim was transported to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead Friday at 12:35 a.m. The state Medical Examiner’s office took possession of the body, and next of kin have been notified.  

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Potential Buyer Interested in Ferry


Efforts to sell an unused ferry owned by the Mat-Su borough continued Thursday Four officials from the Phillippines Navy, and a U.S. Navy advisor examined the ship during a demonstration outside of Ketchikan.

  “We get a lot of typhoons, and we do a lot of disaster response operations, this is something that we can do for that purpose."

The M/V Susitna is not your typical ferry.  It was designed by the navy as a warship prototype for 75 million dollars.

With the help of the late Senator Ted Stevens, the ship was constructed in Ketchikan, creating jobs in a town that once thrived on the timber industry.

The navy gifted the boat to the Mat-Su borough three years ago when it had no use for it.  The intention was to shuttle passengers and vehicles between Anchorage and Port Mackenzie.  Those plans sunk when federal funds to build landings on each end of the Cook Inlet dried up. The ferry idea also took hit when the Knik Arm Crossing was proposed.

Now the borough wants to sell it for $6 million.

The M/V Susitna was originally designed to carry 150 passengers and 50 vehicles, but if the Philippines Navy is interested in buying it, they plan to use it for other purposes.

"This is a very unique vessel, that we can beach it,” said Captain Carlos. “It's a catamaran type; we can load a lot of stuff in here."

It could be several months before the Philippines government makes a decision on the ship.  Meantime, the Mat-Su Borough is settling up on a bill from the federal government.  

The Federal Transit Administration wants the borough to pay back $12.5 million in grant money.  Those funds were used for pre-design and environmental studies related to the project.

Any sale of the ferry must be approved by the borough assembly and the federal government.

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Labor Day Weekend Usually the Deadliest on Alaska's Highways


Labor Day weekend is one of the most dangerous times of the year to drive in Alaska, according to the Alaska Highway Safety Office.

Miles Brookes, who works with the Alaska Fatality Analysis Reporting System said that over the last five years Labor Day weekend proved to be the deadliest driving weekend in the state.   

"From the time period of 2009 to 2013 we've had nine Labor Day weekend fatalities," Brookes said.

Labor Day weekend averaged about four more fatalities than at Christmas time during the same time period.

"I think everybody's trying to get that one last weekend, that last fish run down the (Kenai) Peninsula or that last trip camping trip in Denali," Brookes said.

While many head people choose to drive South for the weekend, the Jamie Larsen and her family is planning to head to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer from Soldotna.

"We get away when all the Anchorage people come to Soldotna," Larsen said.

Larsen says the family has stayed at the fair campgrounds over the last three summers, but hauling the camper can be a challenge.

"Sometimes people get a little impatient and want to speed past you real fast," Larsen said.

It's dangerous behavior on the road that has Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Luis Nieves cautioning drivers to lookout, especially when driving to the fair.

"We've increased patrols across the state in particular in the area of the Palmer fair, which has the highest number of visitors especially this weekend and we just ask that people be responsible," Nieves said.

Local law enforcement participated in national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign which kicked off earlier this month to urge drivers to drive sober.

While increased enforcement goes through Monday, Alaska State Troopers say all drivers are always encouraged to report every dangerous driver by calling 911.

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