APRN Alaska News
Enstar gas prices won’t change much for the next 7 months. Rates will hold steady at just under 78 cents per hundred cubic feet starting in January. That’s 5 and half cents over current rates and about the same as last winter. For an average household on an average month, that’s a $6.70 increase.
Company spokesperson John Sims says the rate is about average for the past five years. Gas costs will continue to rise slightly because of inflation.
Over the past year, the company’s gas cost adjustment swung from about 76 cents per 100 cubic feet of gas in the winter to 46 cents in the spring then back up again for summer. Community members expressed concern about the swings during a meeting with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska this summer.
The rate dropped slightly this fall to 71 cents. According to regulatory filings, the company is still trying to make up for a $5 million dollar deficit in the Gas Cost Balancing Account.
The second quarter drop to 46 cents was an anomaly.
To prevent such large fluctuations in the future, the company is reverting to a yearly cost adjustment instead of quarterly. They’re working their way toward that goal by making a 6-month adjustment that will go into effect in January.
Sims says yearly adjustments will start in July 2015 so people can set their budgets before the cold winter months.
The state is sending an emergency generator to Tuluksak, which has not had power since Friday afternoon.
Jeremy Zidek is with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said Wednesday afternoon that the exact plan for bringing out the generator was still in the works.
“Once it’s on the ground they will be able to hook it up and have it operation within a few hours,” Zidek said. “We’re just really looking at different transportation options.”
Zidek says the Tribal Council has not expressed any emergency concerns, but tribal leaders are worried about food in people’s freezers thawing.
The Alaska Energy Authority has had a person on the ground since Monday to work on the generator, which broke down Friday. Residents say the post office is closed due to the power outage. The community is also dealing with phone and Internet issues, according to sources. The school principal says they have power from a generator and school is in session. Zidek says local individuals are working to share what power sources they do have.
“They are working with residents to identify where local generators are, where they can share the temporary power capability among neighbors,” Zidek said.
The community of nearly 400 people is located more than 50 river miles above Bethel. The ADN reports that GCI had sent a technician there to troubleshoot the phone and Internet issues. KYUK has been unable to reach the Tuluksak Traditional Power Utility.
Pavlof Volcano is awake again on the Alaska Peninsula.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory reports that Pavlof, “has entered a new phase of eruptive activity.” Wednesday night, they upgraded the volcano from ‘normal’ to ‘watch’ status – the middle tier of their system, indicating heightened unrest.
The AVO reports that Pavlof is spewing ash up to 9,000 feet above sea level, visible in neighboring Cold Bay. Scientists also saw increased seismic activity at the volcano Wednesday afternoon.
Pavlof is one of the most active volcanos in the state, but it has been quiet since June, when it erupted for about a week. During that event, Pavlof sent up an ash plume more than 20,000 feet above sea level and caused a string of local flight cancellations.
The volcano’s eruptions have been known to escalate quickly, according to the AVO. They can last just a few days, or as long as several weeks.
An appeals court has tossed out a request by Shell Oil to block future challenges from environmental groups against Arctic drilling operations.
Shell filed the lawsuit against 13 environmental and tribal organizations back in 2012. The oil company wanted a formal declaration that its government-approved spill response plans were legal. They hoped it would help them block hypothetical lawsuits down the road.
But the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said any challenges would have to go through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which approves Shell’s plans, rather than Shell itself. The court said it would be unconstitutional for Shell to determine the winner of court battles between BOEM and other groups that haven’t even happened yet.
The National Resource Defense Council was one group Shell was suing. In a statement, director Chuck Clusen said, “Shell was attempting to quash dissent and circumvent due process. It didn’t work – our legal system prevailed.”
The decision leaves the door open for groups like the NRDC to take potential legal action against Shell’s prospects in the Arctic. That’s as the company tries to secure more federal approvals for a 2015 drilling season in the Chukchi Sea.
A Bethel man has accepted a plea deal for sexual abuse of minors.
Eighteen charges against 66-year old Daniel Kashatok were consolidated into a charge of 2nd degree sexual assault of a minor and one 2nd degree count of attempted sexual assault of a minor.
Kashatok was originally charged with a total of 22 counts. With the guilty plea, the remaining counts were dismissed.
The charges stem from incidents between 2006 and 2010. Some of them reportedly happened at the Bethel Native Corporation building in Bethel where Kashatok worked. KYUK, in 2012, cited documents referencing 12 victims, of which 11 were under the age of 13.
Judge Charles Ray asked that Kashatok be held in the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center until sentencing after a request from Kashatok’s public defender. He’s been in jail in Anchorage. Sentencing is set for March 27 with Judge Ray.
There was a hearing in the Fairbanks Four case Monday. The hearing in state court was requested by the Alaska Innocence Project, which is attempting to overturn guilty convictions of George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent, the 4 men imprisoned for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman.
A new study theorizes that there could be more frequent and more violent storms accompanied by increased flooding and erosion in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta over the next 50 to 100 years due to climate change. The study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska used remote sensing technology along with traditional knowledge and observations from local Native people.
Alaska scientists used satellite images to look through clouds during storms and for the first time could see how far tidal flooding on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta extended inland. It was much farther than they imagined.
“It’s really extensive, it can go just about 20 miles inland during these really large storm events. So it covers a very large portion of the outer Delta,” said Jorgenson.
That’s Torre Jorgenson, a landscape ecologist and adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and co-author of the study. Scientists examined storm-flooding events in the Bering Sea region of western Alaska from 1913 to 2011 and found that the largest events occurred in autumn and were associated with high tides and strong southwest winds. The data allowed them to map and document the extent of the region’s flooding for the first time. Jorgenson’s projections show sea level could rise 1-3 feet in the region over the next 100 years and that the region will likely see an increase in the frequency of flooding in coastal areas to a monthly basis.
“The study also looked at the retreat of sea ice”, Jorgenson says, because it dampens the affects of storm surges in the winter. A delay of freeze-up of the Bering Sea during the winter could allow big storms and significant surges to extend into December and January. Dr. Craig Ely is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and co-author of the study.
“Over a couple of days what happens is the tide comes up and then the wind pushes the tide inland even more. And then the winds are so high the tide doesn’t get a chance to leave and so the water just basically builds up over a couple of days. You know I’ve been out in some of the smaller storms when we’ve been kind of stranded out there and there’s just no low tide, it just keeps getting higher and higher,” said Ely.
Winter storms could have huge impacts: freshwater habitats converting to salt water, heavy sediment smothering vegetation, low lying permafrost plateaus collapsing, and villages eroding away.
81-year-old Leo Moses, of Chevak, was born about 30 miles South in Kashunik where he remembers a huge flood changed everything.
“And then after the flood had gone, for some years, the village itself started to sink. I think it was that the permafrost underneath the village was melting so it had nothing to hold it up and it started sinking it,” Moses.
The flood forced the village to move to old Chevak in the mid 1940s when Moses was about 7. The BIA then moved the village to what is now Chevak. Moses says he has no doubt he’s seeing climate change.
“Yeah, I’m seeing climate change every year. Man, the permafrost is going. Eventually we won’t have any permafrost. Ice up north, the ones that never used to melt start melting and there’s more water. What kind of future we have, I have no slightest idea,” said Moses.
Jorgenson points to the village Newtok, the first modern western Alaska village to initiate their own relocation, to Nelson Island, due to climate change. Jorgenson says warming temperatures and increased flooding will impact the Y-K region in his lifetime.
“I’m anticipating that most of the permafrost in this region will disappear in the next 30-50 years and storm surges help accelerate this loss by killing the vegetation,” said Jorgenson.
Both Ely and Jorgenson say their work provides a baseline on which more science can build. The findings of the study are in the most recent issue of the journal, Arctic.
The Division of Elections tallied 20,000 uncounted ballots on Tuesday. When workers turned the machines off at 10pm, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker had increased his lead over Republican Gov. Sean Parnell to 4,000 votes. With a Walker win looking more likely, a transition team is being formed to prepare for a December 1 inauguration. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Bill Walker and his running mate Byron Mallott were quick to name the leaders of the transition team at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at their Anchorage campaign headquarters. First came Ana Hoffman – co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation, and a Democrat. Next, they introduced Rick Halford – former president of the state Senate, resident of Aleknakik and Chugiak, and a Republican.
But that’s about as specific as they got on the transition team. After already being pushed multiple times by multiple reporters to explain what exactly the team wanted to accomplish, Rachel D’Oro from the Associated Press again asked for a game plan. This time, from lieutenant governor candidate Byron Mallott.
D’ORO: I’m feeling that it’s just a little vague from what all of you have said. Concretely, what is this team going to do? Are they going to come up with a list of possible personnel? What is the end result going to be of this team?
MALLOTT: You know, that’s something that we’ve pondered ourselves. *laughter*
Walker and Mallott clarified that the transition team will not be tasked with selecting commissioners, but they themselves will separately name a cabinet within days of formally winning election. Walker said he had talked with Gov. Sean Parnell about what the logistics of a transition would look like.
Transition co-chair Ana Hoffman said her team’s focus will instead be on policy.
“Arctic policy and climate change, consumer energy, corrections, economic development, education, fiscal policy, and fisheries,” listed Hoffman. “Of course, these are all very large, significant topics.”
Co-chair Rick Halford added that the idea is to get stakeholders in those areas to hash out possible courses of action, and there will be more specifics once the race is called.
“A transition is vague, and it’s particularly vague when you don’t have final results, and you have a week or two to deal with the final issue. So yes, you’re right it is vague,” said Halford. “But you shouldn’t be afraid to ask a question, because the question’s vague and the answers may be vague.”
Walker himself echoed that point.
“I apologize for the vagueness of it, but this is a different process because of the nature of the timing,” said Walker.
Walker also emphasized that even though a transition team is being formed, the campaign is still waiting on further results from the Division of Elections. The Parnell campaign plans to do the same.
Elections workers will count more absentee and questioned ballots on Friday, with counts also scheduled for next week if necessary. More than 30,000 ballots still need to be processed.
Longtime Juneau service agency Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA, may not have enough money to keep operating.
The nonprofit has 18 AmeriCorps members in Anchorage, Juneau, Seward, Cordova and Yakutat. It also works outdoors with young people through programs that are now in a state of flux.
SAGA recently lost staff members after a series of resignations and layoffs and is in the process of moving out of its main shop and office.
When George McGuan joined SAGA’s board of directors in March, he had no idea the organization was in a financial hole. He says the board informed him in July that SAGA was $250,000 in debt.
“I was blown away. I was like, ‘OK, we’re a non-profit. How are we $250,000 in debt?’ And they just kind of seemed like, ‘Well, that’s how we operate,’” McGuan says.
SAGA was founded in 1986 with a mission to foster development through hands-on learning. Its programs, Alaska Service Corps and Connections, bring AmeriCorps volunteers to Alaska. That’s how McGuan first came to Juneau in 2005.
He says the debt stems from many years ago, but the organization started falling apart this year. McGuan describes the process as people jumping ship.
“Our board of directors had our president quit and the organization itself had three people leave right in the middle of the summer. And then our executive director decided to quit because of the stress level, so we were kind of left holding the bag there with no real organization left,” McGuan says.
SAGA staff who left included an office coordinator and finance manager. When Executive Director Beverly Schoonover gave her letter of resignation in July, McGuan says the board tried at first to find a replacement, but that search has stopped.
Schoonover left in October for a state job after two and a half years with SAGA. Longtime employee Justin Fantasia also left around the same time. He had worked for SAGA since 2003.
“I was just really concerned that there wasn’t going to be a transition from executive director to executive director and that there was a lot of uncertainty whether the organization is going to continue on. I was not formally in a director position but I was in a leadership position. I didn’t want to find myself at the helm when things were going down,” Fantasia says.
Most recently, Fantasia was the manager of SAGA’s House Build program, a partnership with Juneau-Douglas High School, the school district and Juneau Housing Trust. Its goal is to build affordable housing.
He was the general contractor and experiential educator for high school students. Funding for his position came from the school district.
“When the House Build program wasn’t able to find land, which was not SAGA’s responsibility, but it was just sort of the partnership as a whole, I let everybody know that I was totally ready to be laid off if it was necessary,” Fantasia says. “It’s hard for SAGA to carry me as a staff person without that program revenue.”
SAGA is no longer part of the House Build program, which is moving forward and working with the city to purchase land. Fantasia, now an adjunct instructor at University of Alaska Southeast, still plans to help lead the construction.
SAGA’s board has been trying to find another organization to take over Connections and its AmeriCorps members. Lawrence Blood with the Division of Community and Regional Affairs, which supports Serve Alaska, says any nonprofit or city government would be eligible, but a transfer would have to be approved.
“Hopefully, the discussions that the board is having has as little impact on the members as possible. And if it does change to a different organization, we hope to make that process as seamless as possible,” Blood says.
The board also doesn’t know if it’ll continue to operate Juneau’s Eagle Valley Center, an outdoor education and retreat facility located out the road. The City and Borough of Juneau owns the center and has had a use agreement with SAGA since 1992. The latest agreement goes through 2016.
The city’s parks and landscape superintendent George Schaaf says SAGA has had trouble meeting terms of the agreement and asked to renegotiate. SAGA has talked to other organizations about partnering to run the center.
“I know that they’re going through some stuff right now and basically they’ve just assured me that they’re taking care of the building, keeping the heat on, keeping the road plowed, that kind of thing,” Schaaf says.
Fantasia describes SAGA’s turbulence as a culmination of many factors associated with the non-profit world – the rollercoaster of grant funding, administrative burdens of grants, high turnover of staff.
“There’s been no questionable use of finances. It’s just a long history of trying to get by,” Fantasia says.
He says SAGA’s outlook is grim, but Fantasia is hopeful its legacy will continue with or without SAGA.
“What they’ve done for 25 years is provide young people with a chance to get out and work on meaningful hands-on projects in a different environment, so go out and work on trails projects, get out to different parts of the state, come in from the villages and work in these teams of young people, have some positive role models in their life,” Fantasia says.
Acting board chair Matt Smith says the board is fighting as hard as it can to keep SAGA alive but he doesn’t know if it’ll be operating after this year. When asked if he feels any responsibility for SAGA’s current trouble, Smith had no comment.
Full disclosure: George Schaaf is a member of the KTOO Board of Directors.
Walkers Starts Forming Transition Team
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN
The Division of Elections counted 20,000 outstanding ballots yesterday. When they turned the machines off at 10pm, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker had increased his lead to 4,000 votes over Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. With a Walker win looking more likely, a transition team is being formed to prepare for a December 1 inauguration.
With Persistent Lead, Sullivan Heads to Washington
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
Republican Dan Sullivan has a persistent lead in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race. Today, according to his campaign spokesman, he’s en route to Washington.
Health Insurers Look Ahead To Open Enrollment Period
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The three month open enrollment period for the federal health care exchange begins this Saturday, November 15th. The two insurers offering plans on healthcare.gov in Alaska have very different projections on how many people will sign up for coverage for 2015.
New Hearing Held On Fairbanks Four Case
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
There was a hearing in the Fairbanks Four case Monday. The hearing in state court was requested by the Alaska Innocence Project, which is attempting to overturn guilty convictions of George Frese, Kevin Pease , Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent, the four men imprisoned for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman.
Alaska Study Predicts Stronger Storms, Flooding for Y-K Delta
Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel
A new study shows there could be more frequent and more violent storms accompanied by increased flooding and erosion in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta over the next 50 to 100 years due to Climate Change. The study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska relied on remote sensing technology along with observations from local Native people.
After nearly 30 years, Juneau service agency SAGA on verge of folding
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Longtime Juneau service agency Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA, may not have enough money to keep operating. The nonprofit has 18 AmeriCorps members in Anchorage, Juneau, Seward, Cordova and Yakutat. It also works outdoors with young people through programs that are now in a state of flux.
Bethel Winter House Faces Difficulties As Board Members Prepare For the Second Season
Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel
The Bethel Winter House provided overnight shelter and hot meals to the homeless living in Bethel last winter. Board members want to open the homeless shelter at the beginning of December, but have to overcome some challenges first.
When War Images Are Replaced With Something New
Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg
Veterans were honored yesterday for the time they served the country. One Vietnam veteran in Petersburg has found healing by going back to the country that was once only known to him as a place of danger and destruction.
The Bethel Winter House underwent its pilot project last winter, providing overnight shelter and hot meals to the homeless living in Bethel, possibly saving lives. Board members want to open the homeless shelter at the beginning of December, but have some challenges to overcome in order for that happen.
Eva Malvich is the President of the Bethel Winter House, or Uksumi Uqisvik in Yup’ik. She says, before they open, they have to find and train enough volunteers.
“We need a minimum of 60 based on how we did last year, and we are having a heck of a time getting people to sign up. If we don’t have 60 people signed up by the end of November we are going to have to meet as a board and decide whether we can open it or not,” said Malvich
Malvich says according to their policy, there will have to be two volunteers each night to run the shelter. She says volunteers will work twice per month, overnight, from 9pm until 7am.
Last year, Malvich says they ran the shelter with 20 volunteers and that wasn’t enough. They were overworked and burnt out. She doesn’t want that to happen again. As of Monda, November 10, ten volunteers have been trained so far, that leaves fifty more that have to be trained by the end of the month.
With winter ahead, Malvic says the community needs to get more involved for the hundred or so homeless living in Bethel to have a safe, warm place to stay.
“The whole purpose for this winter house is to prevent death by exposure for people in this community. There’s no reason why somebody should die from exposure because we’re in the 21st century. We have a big group of people in this community that experience homelessness. Last year there was a count of 100 people and 36 of those are children. It’s a community solution to a community problem.”
Malvic says the shelter has some good news on the funding front. Winter House officials announced last week that Conoco Phillips is contributing $5,000, the biggest donation yet. That brings the winter house one step closer to their goal of hiring a part time volunteer coordinator. There is also a possibility that the shelter will get a $13,500 grant from the state.
However the location of the shelter is still in discussion says Malvic. She says they might elect to rotate the shelter church to church, like last year – but that’s still up in the air.
You can find Bethel Winter House on Facebook.
Veterans are being honored Tuesday for the time they have served the country. One Vietnam veteran in Petersburg has found healing by going back to the country that was once only known to him as a place of danger and destruction.
War can hold difficult memories for many Veterans. Sam Bunge is a Vietnam vet living in Petersburg.
“If you said the term Vietnam I would think about mud and wet and danger and people getting hurt,” Bunge says.
Vietnam was a deadly war killing over 58,000 American soldiers from the late 1960s through the mid ‘70s. Those that returned alive were the lucky ones and Bunge knows it.
“I consider that my life after 1969 is borrowed time and so I try to take advantage of it, enjoy life and be good,” Bunge says.
He was in Vietnam for one year from 1968 to 1969.
“After I returned to the States in ‘69 and got back into real life, I wanted nothing to do with it,” Bunge says. “You couldn’t have dragged me into a Vietnamese restaurant.”
It took 40 years to change his attitude. In 2008, while Bunge was reading a veterans magazine he noticed an announcement about Vietnam veterans volunteering to build schools back in Vietnam. He had long been a volunteer himself as a fire fighter in Petersburg and he was drawn the idea.
“I said that sounds like something I’d like to do,” Bunge says.
So Bunge decided to return to the place that was a battle ground in his mind. He wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I was anxious. . . .because of my previous experience in ’68-’69,” Bunge says.
What Bunge saw was a surprise. So much had changed.
Bunge: “There’s electricity almost everywhere. Roads are improving. New areas are being opened up. For example, my first project was in a place called the A Shau Valley which is where Hamburger Hill is.”
Angela: “What does that mean? Hamburger Hill?”
Bunge: “Oh that was a. . .very significant battle in 1969. . .with the 101st Airborne. Um.. . when I was there in 1969 it was a free fire zone littered with craters from B-52s and the only people who lived there were the North Vietnamese Army. And now, there’s a nice paved road that runs the length of the valley. There are thriving agricultural villages, there’s electricity, irrigation, and a lot of the land is under cultivation. So it’s quite a nice change.”
Bunge believes the process of volunteering was even more beneficial to him than to the Vietnamese who later used the schools he helped build. His memories changed from very negative images to some that are much more positive.
“Now if you say Vietnam I think about green and crowds and smiling kids,” Bunge says. “I was able to replace a lot of nasty, ugly images in my head with more contemporary, peaceful and cheerful ones. Vietnam nowadays is a really nice place. It’s beautiful, there’s an enormous variety in landscapes, some of which are pretty spectacular. The architecture is just fascinating and amazing. The Vietnamese people are very, very friendly.”
He says the proper word to describe it is reconciliation.
Bunge decided to return to Vietnam three more times after the war to build schools in remote villages. Besides the construction work, there were also planned meetings with Vietnamese veterans. He says through translators, they made the best of it. They would sit around a table, introduce each other, eat Vietnamese food, shake hands and take pictures. He says there was a mutual respect. Yet there was one particular instance when Bunge feels like he really connected with someone. It was when he was touring around the country after the volunteer work was over.
“In 2008, a buddy and I went down South where I had operated also, around Saigon and our driver-interpreter took us to a restaurant and there was a poster on the wall of the lady who was a proprietor of the restaurant and she was wearing her Vietcong uniform decked out with medals. Of course, this is after the hostilities has ceased. And she was a local heroine of the Vietcong Women’s Battalion and I had operated right in that area for six months in 1968 and we agreed that we probably had shot at each other (laughs) and we were both happy that neither of us had gotten hurt and we were happy to see each other being prosperous now,” Bunge says.
The volunteer group that Bunge was involved with was around for 25 years before it disbanded recently. Bunge says it’s due to members getting older and having difficulty fundraising.
He says he doesn’t know if his experience can translate to the modern wars. The wars are just so different. But Bunge hopes that if the conflict in the Middle East ever does pass, then perhaps for some modern day soldiers they too can find peace by revisiting their old battle grounds in the decades to come. Only time will tell.
With more votes counted in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Dan Sullivan still leads Democrat Mark Begich by about 8,000 votes. The Associated Press is calling Sullivan the winner. While Begich hasn’t conceded, the former attorney general seem to be claiming his victory.
“I am deeply humbled and honored to serve my fellow Alaskans in the United States Senate,” Sullivan said in a written statement issued a few hours after the Division of Elections announced the results of some 17,000 late-counted ballots. Begich made slight gains in the latest count and now trails by 3.2 percentage points. The state still has more than 30,000 ballots left to count, though they’d have to break very differently to affect the outcome.
Campaign spokesman Mike Anderson said Sullivan would be en route to Washington today and plans to participate in Republican organizing conferences Thursday.
In the U.S. Capitol today, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell met with the incoming GOP freshmen, minus senators-elect from Alaska and Louisisana.
“We’re really excited about having a great new bunch here, and were hoping to be joined by Dan Sullivan and Bill Cassidy shortly,” McConnell said.
The new members of both parties meet this week for freshmen orientation. They don’t take office until January.
The murder trial of Leroy B. Dick Jr., 44, concluded Tuesday evening when the jury delivered the verdict.
“We the jury find the defendant Leroy Dick Junior guilty of murder in the first degree as charged,” read the foreman.
The nine men and three women notified the judge of their unanimous decision at 4:37 p.m. Tuesday, just an hour and a half after going into deliberations. The verdict was read a little after 5 p.m.
VPSO Thomas Madole’s widow Luan reached for a tissue as the judge finished polling each juror individually. Madole’s family was flanked by four law enforcement officers in the courtroom Tuesday evening.
Leroy Dick Jr. shot and killed Officer Madole in Manokotak on March 19, 2013. Dickadmitted to murdering Madole in at least six taped confessions, including one with KDLG News following his arraignment on March 20, 2013.
The trial began on Monday, November 3. It took four days to pick 13 jurors, and opening statements were made by the prosecution and defense on Friday, November 7. State prosecutor Gregg Olson called nine witnesses and published dozens of pieces of evidence as he meticulously laid out the events of March 19 for the jury.
State trooper Victor Aye, who works as a support trooper with VPSOs around the state, had been in Manokotak with Madole the day of the murder. He had flown back to Dillingham only moments before the shooting. When he was shown a picture of he and Tom Madole surrounded by children at Manokotak Elementary School from that morning, the 20+ year veteran of the force broke into tears on the stand.
“I’m sorry,” he said, as he asked for a moment before continuing.
A key piece of evidence was introduced Monday, when Olson called trooper investigator Nasruk Nay as a witness. Nay had taken custody of Dick when the plane transporting him from Manokotak landed in Dillingham after the murder. During an interview at about 9 p.m. that night at the Dillingham jail, the following exchange took place:
NAY: “First of all, what kind of a firearm was it that you used?”
DICK: “A .223, a mini-14.”
NAY: “A mini-14, ok. And where did you get that from?”
DICK: “In the gun cabinet.”
NAY: “Was the gun cabinet locked?”
NAY: “Ok, so you had to unlock the gun cabinet to get the rifle?”
NAY: “Was the rifle loaded?”
DICK: “I loaded it earlier cause they was gonna call the cops, you know, to come around me to bother me. I didn’t like it.”
NAY: “So you loaded your gun earlier?”
DICK: “Yeah after my mom took off, probably to go to the clinic.”
NAY: “And that was because you knew the cops were going to be coming?”
DICK: “Yeah cause she said she was gonna call the cops and send them to me.”
On Tuesday morning, Olson played the audio tape from VPSO Madole’s recorder, which was on during the shooting. The horrifying audio captured the brief, violent interaction between Madole and Dick, starting as Officer Madole knocked on Dick’s door and asked to talk to him. An agitated Dick screamed back, and Madole began to walk away as Dick had told him to do. Dick emerged from the door with the rifle, and Tom Madole could be heard starting to run just before six shots were fired.
Four or five of the shots hit Madole’s body, and the audio captured his agony. Dick is heard approaching.
“Fucker,” Dick yelled from very close, as he fired a seventh shot that entered just behind Tom Madole’s ear.
Madole’s body was 49.6 feet from Dick’s front door.
“Tom Madole almost made it around the corner,” Olson told the jury in his closing arguments, pointing out on a map how close Madole had been to making it to cover behind a nearby house.
To prove first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt, Olson had to prove that Dick had intended to cause death, and that he had in fact killed Madole.
“Was that his purpose when he pulled the trigger six times, and then pulled the trigger a seventh and final time?” Olson asked.
He played the tape of the murder again before the jury went to deliberate. Presiding Judge Gregory Miller appeared emotionally affected after the tape had played a second time, and briefly struggled to read instructions to the jury.
Dick’s defense attorneys, Jonathon Torres and Lars Johnson, never disputed that Dick had shot and killed Tom Madole. They called no witnesses, presented no evidence, and Leroy Dick chose not to testify. They cross examined only a few of the witnesses. According to presiding Judge Miller, the defense had also not attempted to enter any mental health issues as evidence prior to the trial.
The defense asked the jurors to consider a lesser-included charge of second degree murder, arguing that the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Dick had intended to kill Madole.
“What happened on March 19 was a tragedy, there’s no two ways about,” Torres said in his closing arguments. “And tragedies have consequences. The consequences in this case boil down to murder one versus murder two. That is what you are here to decide. The difference between first degree murder and second degree murder is intent.”
Torres said Dick had acted out of anger, and a sense of persecution from his family and community, but that it hadn’t been his “specific intent” to kill Madole.
Torres continued, “If one of you does not believe beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Leroy’s intent to kill VPSO Madole, then you cannot convict Leroy of murder in the first degree, and the appropriate conviction would be murder in the second degree.”
The jurors were sent to deliberate at 3 p.m. Tuesday, and returned the guilty verdict on the first degree murder charge just after 5 p.m. Judge Miller set March 6 as the date for Dick’s sentencing hearing. The state earlier announced its intention to seek a 99 year sentence.
Republican Dan Sullivan won Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, defeating incumbent Democrat Mark Begich.
Sullivan led Begich by about 8,100 votes on Election Night last week, and when state officials counted absentee and questioned ballots Tuesday, the results indicated that Begich could not overcome Sullivan’s lead.
The Alaska seat was initially considered key to the Republicans’ hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate, but that was accomplished election night with the GOP sweep.
Sullivan, a first-time candidate, ran a confident campaign, ignoring the debate schedule Begich released during the primary and setting his own agenda. He also attracted some star power to the state, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney rallying support for Sullivan in the waning days of the hotly contested race.
Sullivan pledged to fight federal overreach, talked about the need for an energy renaissance in the U.S. and at seemingly every opportunity, sought to tie Begich to President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who are unpopular in Alaska.
Begich complained that Sullivan offered little in the way of proposals for what he would do as senator. Begich also tried to paint sharp contrasts between himself and Sullivan in areas such as women’s health, education and Alaska issues.
Begich, for example, was born and raised in Alaska. He cast Sullivan, who grew up in Ohio, as an outsider, and many of the early attacks by pro-Begich groups keyed in to that theme. That perception of Sullivan made for an at-times uncomfortable debate on fisheries issues, in which questioners grilled Sullivan about his knowledge of one of Alaska’s most important industries.
On several occasions, Sullivan’s wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, an Alaska Native and frequent companion on the campaign trail, appeared in ads defending her husband’s ties to the state and his positions on women’s issues.
Sullivan has roots in Alaska dating to the 1990s but was gone for nearly seven years for military service and work in Washington, D.C., that included working as an assistant secretary of state. He returned to Alaska in 2009, when he was appointed attorney general by then-Gov. Sarah Palin.
He most recently served as Alaska’s natural resources commissioner, a post he left in September 2013, to make his first run for public office.
Sullivan hit the ground running, exhibiting a fundraising prowess that rivaled and during some quarters exceeded that of Begich. Many of his supporters cited his service in the Marine Corps reserves or repeated the oft-repeated GOP refrain that became of hallmark of the campaign — that Begich voted with Obama “97 percent of the time,” a figure that takes into account votes during 2013, many of them on confirmations, on which Obama stated a preference.
He said he was humbled by the support he received and publicly sought to tamp down expectations, even as campaign members expressed great confidence in a victory in the lead-up to Tuesday and said the Democrats’ much-talked-about ground game wasn’t all it was made out to be.
Tens of millions of dollars were pumped into the state, with Republicans seeing Begich as vulnerable and Democrats trying to hold the seat Begich won in 2008. Voters were barraged by calls and ads, which many said they were turned off by.
Sullivan emerged from a hard-fought, three-way GOP primary to take on Begich, who had token opposition. Begich focused during that race on bolstering his homespun image, casting himself as an independent thinker unafraid to stand up to Obama, with a record of working across party lines, including with Alaska’s senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski, who backed Sullivan after the primary and is in line to chair the Senate energy committee now that Republicans have taken over the Senate, told Begich to knock it off.
A turning point, in the view of many observers, was an ad from Begich’s campaign shortly after the primary that painted Sullivan as soft on crime. It featured a man identified as a former Anchorage police officer standing outside the home where an elderly couple was beaten to death and a family member sexually abused in 2013. It ended with the man saying Sullivan should not be a senator.
The ad, which Sullivan responded to with one of his own, was pulled following a demand from an attorney for the victims’ family.
Begich, in discussing the ad, said Sullivan had a “pattern when he was attorney general of doing these plea deals that let violent offenders, sexual offenders out earlier than they should be.” He said Sullivan’s record as attorney general needed to be scrutinized. But that didn’t become a major focus of TV ads by his campaign and surrogates.
Instead, some of the strongest criticism of Sullivan was with regards to his residency, his support of a permitting bill that critics said would have limited public participation in the state’s permitting process and his stance on abortion.
A s military forces continue drawing down from deployments abroad, more service members are transitioning back into the civilian workforce. A recent job fair in Anchorage is just one of the ways the state is spending resources to match vets with employers in the public and private sectors to combat the nation-wide problem of veteran unemployment.
Dressed in her camo fatigues on a break from work at Joint Base Elmendor-Richardson, Sargent Alena Withers still has another year in the Army, but thinks she’s behind the curve when it comes to job hunting.
“I feel like I should have started a long time ago,” Withers said, taking a break from perusing folding tables covered in handouts and displays from the 130 companies that attended the fair. “Honestly, I feel like I never should have taken my eyes off the civilian job market. Finding a job, and just learning how to network–that’s a skill-set in and of itself.”
At 15%, Alaska has the highest number of vets per capita of any state in the nation. They face unemployment rates below their un-enlisted counterparts, 5.1% for Alaska vets, compared to 6.4% unemployment for state residents overall. A state policy gives veterans priority at job centers, offers employers tax-credits, and organizes job fairs like the one at University Center in Midtown last Friday.
As a combat medic in Afghanistan Withers shouldered a lot of responsibility, and is discouraged by the prospects for getting to carry those skills into her next job.
“The problem that I’ve been seeing is that I don’t have the civilian certifications that back up the training and the skill set that I’ve learned how to do,” she explained. “So I’m having to be forced to go back to school regardless of whether or not I’m really good at that job. And it kind of makes me feel like I should maybe just start over and do an entry-level position outside of my field, because it takes a long time to learn to do aviation casualties on an on-board.”
Withers was with her friend Maria Gusto, who has been looking for a job since this summer after four years as an Army HR officer. It has not been going well. She thinks that civilians don’t always understand she not only learned a career field, but it was exceptionally difficult.
“We would train as if we were deployed,” she said, dressed in business attire and holding an attache case.
“We would get attacked in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day. And you’re in the middle of doing your work and you have to go into your bunker,” she continued. “So it’s definitely more stressful than the civilian life.”
Employers often see job candidates’ time in the service as a black box, not always knowing what happened inside. Many veterans may have never applied for a job, and not know how to translate their work histories into civilian terms. Craig Crawford is a vice-president at CH2M Hill, one of the companies collecting resumes at a booth near an athletic store, and he sees there needs to be more work done bridging the all-too-frequent employment gap after service that can cause short-term joblessness to drag on long-term.
CH2M Hill does a lot of construction and support services for Alaska’s oil and gas industry. That’s partly because many veterans learned how to do the exact same work in the service.
“Just about every job you can imagine in the military is reflected again in the oil and gas field,” Crawford explained. “We gotta have security, we gotta have administrative help, we have to have welders, pipe-fitters, mill-wrights–all of those skill sets. We have to have frontline supervision, which looks like a sergeant, we gotta have captains, lieutenants, even a few generals.”
Crawford believes the current national troop draw-down is creating a much-needed state-side pool of skilled labor. It is a sensible, but slightly optimistic perspective.
Steven Williams coordinates employment for veterans with the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and highlighted another common experience for veterans leaving the armed forces: feeling overqualified for civilian life.
“I think one of the challenges with transitioning out of the military is having to start from scratch,” said Williams, who spent more than a decade in the National Guard, including a tour of Iraq spent mostly around the oil fields in Kirkuk. ”When I was deployed I was 20-years-old, and more than just equipment–I was trusted with lots of equipment there, vehicles–but also just the lives of my supervisors. And then the struggle comes when you get to the civilian sector, and you come with all this experience and all this responsibility–and you’re trusted with a broom.”
Sargent Alena Withers’s priorities for the years ahead are starting a family and going back to school. She is keeping her eyes and ears open–but for a new job, not yet a new career. Still, she said job fairs like Friday’s are important for getting a better sense of the part-time work that’s out there.
“I didn’t realize that there were jobs outside of the medical field that are still sort of para-medical. And what they provide was services–in-home services. They’ll do your laundry, clean your house. You know, whatever you need done on an hourly basis.”
Withers traded info with one such company, and was happy to have made the connection. Even if it is a year away from potentially panning out.