At least two stolen cars were recovered from an East Anchorage home on Wednesday night and two men arrested, one of whom was found hiding in insulation in an attic, police said.
Just before 9 p.m. on Wednesday, officers in the area of Muldoon Road and 32nd Avenue noticed a 2008 black Chevy Trailblazer that had been reported stolen to police the day before, the Anchorage Police Department said in a written statement.
The Trailblazer had been stolen from a business parking lot on Muldoon Road on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, officers saw the Trailblazer in a residential driveway on the 3000-block of Brookridge Circle.
Several officers approached the Trailblazer. A man later identified as Nicholas K. Kost, 27, got into the driver's seat. Officers blocked him in with their cars, and he began driving back and forth, trying to get away, police said.
Kost hit another vehicle in the driveway, which then hit a police officer who was on foot, police said. The officer wasn't hurt.
Then, Kost drove forward, breaking off a piece of an exterior wall and damaging the garage door, police said.
One officer saw a rifle on the front passenger side of the Trailblazer, and reached through an open window to grab it. Kost "refused to listen" to commands, police said.
After "multiple Taser warnings," during which Kost tried to drive away, officers tased him one time in the upper body, according to police. He was taken into custody.
Police later found a 2004 GMC Yukon parked in the garage that had been reported stolen on Aug. 16. The Yukon had been stolen from the owner's driveway on Karluk Street. When officers found it, the engine had been partially removed, police said.
Three more vehicles were found that had "punched-out ignitions and stripped steering columns," but those cars had not been reported stolen, and police had so far been unable to reach the vehicle owners as of Thursday.
Officers cleared the house, giving "multiple commands for anyone inside to identify themselves," police said.
Officers saw that the attic had been "recently accessed," police said. In the attic, 28-year-old Joseph Ambrosio was found hiding in the insulation.
Kost, who had five outstanding felony warrants, was charged with first-degree vehicle theft, second-degree theft, resisting arrest, three counts of third-degree assault, two counts of third-degree criminal mischief, and third-degree misconduct involving a weapon.
Ambrosio also had an outstanding felony warrant. He was charged with resisting arrest.
Both men were taken to the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Their initial court appearances were scheduled for Thursday afternoon, online records show.
An Amtrak train moves along the track at Penn Station in New York, U.S., on Friday, July, 7, 2017. Bloomberg photo by Jeenah Moon. (Jeenah Moon/)
As railroads across the nation race to complete a congressional deadline for installing safety technology, Amtrak is threatening to substitute buses for trains on lines that lack the equipment, triggering a furious response from the mostly rural areas.
Amtrak says it's just one measure being considered as it seeks assurances that local governments will help fund needed improvements. Local officials and U.S. lawmakers from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico said such a move would be devastating to their communities.
"It's just frustrating that we didn't sit down and talk about how to do that nine months ago, before the bomb dropped on the busing," said Steve Cottrell, assistant to the city manager in Garden City, Kansas. Garden City is a stopping point for Amtrak's iconic Southwest Chief, which runs once a day in each direction between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Lawmakers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's railroad panel Thursday grilled Scot Naparstek, Amtrak's executive vice president and chief operating officer, along with other railroad operators and U.S. regulators on the lack of progress installing a safety system known as positive train control. The system is supposed to be installed by Jan. 1, though some railroads say they won't make the deadline.
Senators are trying to enact legislation that would put a one-year moratorium on the substitution of buses for trains.
The dispute highlights long-term tensions over funding of a national passenger rail system that has far less traffic than its counterparts in Europe and Asia, as well as the competing interests of safety verses economics.
The Southwest Chief, like many of the long-distance train routes outside the busy Boston-Washington corridor, brings in significantly less revenue than it costs to operate and the tracks Amtrak uses -- most of which are owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s BNSF Corp. -- are in need of millions of dollars in infrastructure investment.
About 363,000 people rode the Chief in 2017, according to a June presentation by Richard Anderson, the passenger railroad's president and chief executive officer. It's one of the railroad's biggest money losers compared to other long-distance routes, he said.
The line also lacks positive train control, which automatically prevents trains from colliding with each other and prevents engineers from accidentally going too fast. On 219 miles of BNSF's track, there are no longer any freight trains, so Amtrak is solely responsible for installing upgrades and the safety technology.
Amtrak was roundly criticized last December when one of its trains derailed in Washington State on a route from Seattle to Portland that didn't have positive train control. The engineer was traveling 50 miles per hour over the speed limit, something positive train control is designed to prevent by automatically slowing a train in that situation.
Three people died in the wreck.
The lightly traveled route from Dodge City, Kansas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, is mostly exempt from U.S. law requiring railroads to install positive train control. New Mexico, which operates the remaining section of track, is applying for an exemption and hopes to have it in place by the end of the year.
"Replacing rail service with bus service for the nearly 11-hour bus ride from Dodge City to Albuquerque would disrupt service for passengers, increase barriers to travel and hobble local economies," Sen. Thomas Udall, D-N.M., said in an email. "On top of that, trading trains for buses is less safe and reduces ridership."
But Amtrak officials have told local governments that their board of directors' policy is to err on the side of safety and have the system on all its routes. The Raton Pass in northern New Mexico is the steepest mainline railroad grade in the U.S., making the need for the safety system even more critical, they said.
"Last month, Amtrak officials met with stakeholders from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to review the challenges associated with a limited portion of the existing Southwest Chief route and possible changes to service for that segment," said Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds.
"At present, no changes to the current service have been made and we are working with various stakeholders on long-term options to address the unique capital and operating costs associated with Amtrak's operation over these segments owned by BNSF Railway and the State of New Mexico," Leeds said.
Naparstek, who wasn't asked directly about the bus plan in Thursday's hearing, said the railroad is conducting "detailed risk assessments" to determine how it should proceed on segments such as the Southwest Chief.
The railroad's goal "is to continue to operate all of our services over all our current routes come Jan. 1, 2019," he said.
Accident investigators are concerned about the sectors of track on which the safety system isn't required, Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told lawmakers. About 40 percent of railroad tracks in the U.S. won't have to have the system, and that includes 1,400 miles of Amtrak routes, Sumwalt said.
"If Amtrak continues to operate on those segments, there will be a diminished level of safety for passengers and train crews who are traveling through communities such as Topeka, Kansas; Grand Junction, Colorado; Portland, Maine; Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans; Saint Louis and many others," he said.
Anderson, in testimony to Congress in February, raised the possibility of disruptions to service as a result of railroads that lease track to the passenger system not meeting the deadline. Other states are concerned that buses may be substituted on certain routes.
In Vermont, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., believes Amtrak has "sent too many mixed signals'' about whether it will continue train service on two lines without positive train control, said his spokesman David Carle. The railroad hasn't responded to Leahy's request to say whether or not it plans to suspend service, Carle said.
Leeds said that "Amtrak's aim is to continue service across all of its network, including the routes in Vermont, and to ensure that we can do so with a common level of safety."
BNSF, which owns most of the Southwest Chief's track, has installed the technology on all 11,500 miles of track on which it's required, spokeswoman Amy Casas said. The company is also installing it in some but not all sections where it's not required, Casas said. Federal mandates include an exemption for lightly traveled tracks.
Lawmakers including Senators Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, and Udall have jumped into the controversy, sponsoring legislation that would prevent the use of buses for a year and set aside money for track upgrades. The measure was attached to a budget bill that is working its way through Congress.
If buses are used for a stretch of track that's almost 600 miles long, it would kill demand for the train, said Evan Stair, an activist who runs a group called Passenger Rail Oklahoma that is also active in Kansas and other states where the Southwest Chief operates.
The bus plan would "only further the great divide between the urban and rural communities in this country," Dodge City Mayor E. Kent Smoll, said in a statement. "We have Dodge City residents who rely heavily on these services particularly the elderly and disabled who do not desire to fly or drive long distances."
In a meeting last month in New Mexico, Amtrak officials signaled that they were considering alternatives to using buses, said Bill Sauble, chairman of the Colfax County Commission in that state.
Still, local governments remain frustrated with what they see as a sudden change in Amtrak's policy on the Southwest Chief and the railroad's demands for guaranteed funding for the line, Sauble said.
"Nobody is arguing that PTC or some safety feature isn't necessary," he said. "It's just the time table for getting it installed."
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Bloomberg’s Frederic Tomesco contributed.
The setting sun lights up the buildings of downtown Anchorage beneath the Chugach Mountains as seen from Port Woronzof in west Anchorage, AK, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)
This upcoming week, we are celebrating Welcoming Week here in Anchorage as an official Welcoming City. As a community of family, neighbors and friends, there are many exciting events taking place to join. Welcoming Week gives all of us an opportunity to recognize and highlight the economic, cultural and social contributions that immigrants and refugees make to our communities and show support and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have been displaced from their homes by war and persecution.
Can you imagine that life? Being forced from your home and country for your beliefs, your color, your ethnicity, your geographical location or even just because you're a person in the way of a battle? I find it difficult to imagine because it is so completely wrong. Yet it is happening all over the world. People are being displaced from their countries and their homes right now. The current estimate of forcibly displaced people worldwide is 68.5 million people – the highest levels of displacement on record. That means 1 of every 113 members of our human family has had to flee their home to a different place within their country or across a border.
Once a displaced person is pushed across a border into another country, they become a refugee. Officially, the United Nations determines whether they are eligible for refugee status, but basically, they must have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. Most refugees are in countries surrounding the country from which they fled. Sometimes they are allowed to officially resettle there, and sometimes they are not so they live in a state of flux.
To come to the U.S. as a refugee is very difficult and rigorous. To enter our country as a refugee is the most difficult way to come to the United States of America. Only about 1 percent of refugees worldwide are given the opportunity to resettle to a third country such as the U.S. or Australia. If they apply to the U.S. for resettlement and make it past the first application, an intensive screening process is initiated. This process includes interviews with the Department of Homeland Security, fingerprinting and security checks through the FBI and Department of Defense databases, as well as medical screenings and cultural orientation before they would be given the opportunity to come here. This process can take a minimum of 18 months, but typically it lasts years. Once in Anchorage, refugees immediately began searching for employment and receiving job training. They are generally very successful. Within a year, the vast majority are off of public assistance and have become taxpaying members of our community.
Welcoming Week is a great opportunity to bring recognition to this challenging issue and to celebrate refugees who have joined us in Anchorage – as well as immigrants and asylum-seekers who have traveled their own rigorous, challenging paths to Alaska. There are so many productive and strong people who first arrived in Anchorage from other countries and now own businesses, send their children to schools, pay taxes, celebrate with us in faith communities and contribute to the social fabric of our community.
I urge you to reach out and welcome new members to our community, in particular those who have overcome extreme challenges to resettle in our country and our community. We are neighbors and friends, and we share a connection. Most people who live in Anchorage arrived here from somewhere else – only our Dena'ina community can probably claim true long-term roots. Settling in a new place is difficult and can feel uncomfortable. One of my favorite things about Anchorage, though, is our generosity of spirit and the welcome we offer to travelers and newcomers. So many of us have created new families and communities from scratch here in Anchorage, and we know the feeling of newly arriving.
That spirit is something to celebrate every day – and in particular during Welcoming Week. Thank you, Anchorage, for your welcome!
Lisa Aquino is the Executive Director of Catholic Social Services – Alaska, which houses the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services program.
Lillie Gunter stands for a photograph at her home in Princeville, North Carolina, on Sept. 12, 2018. Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg (Charles Mostoller/)
In the main room of her trailer, the one she bought for $78,000 after Hurricane Matthew destroyed her last home in 2016, Lillie Gunter is getting ready to flee Princeville, North Carolina, for the third time in two decades.
And she says she isn't coming back.
"What good is it doing?" Gunter asked Wednesday morning, standing next to piles of clothing and belongings stacked on the kitchen counter, ready to be packed in advance of Hurricane Florence, which is expected to inundate this town when it makes landfall in coming days. "Why are you holding onto something that isn't going to benefit you?"
For towns that are made vulnerable by geography -- low-lying, encircled by rivers and creeks or exposed to the sea -- monster storms raise the question of how many disasters a community can handle before people leave for good.
Princeville, which sits on low, swampy land, is so exposed that the federal government offered buyouts to get people to leave after a series of punishing storms. The rationale is to protect people from future natural disasters, while also preventing taxpayer money from getting spent on the same homes over and over.
But buyouts, generally aimed at homes that keep flooding and can't easily be defended through elevation, levees or other types of protection, don't always work as smoothly as they're supposed to. According to the Princeville town manager, Shanelle Harris, 22 households applied for buyouts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Matthew two years ago. So far, she said, none have gone through.
FEMA, busy preparing for the latest storm, didn't respond to a request to comment about the status of Princeville's buyouts.
Florence may be the last straw. Before Matthew, Princeville was emptied by Hurricane Floyd.
"Some people just cut their losses" and left, Harris said during an interview in Princeville's temporary offices, tucked into an empty former nursing home four miles outside of town.
An abandoned home in Princeville, North Carolina, on Sept. 12, 2018. Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg (Charles Mostoller/)
Only half the town's 2,000 or so residents have come back since Matthew, Harris said, basing her estimate on the number of households that have had their water turned back on. The town's elementary school is still closed.
Founded in 1885, Princeville was the first town in the country chartered by African Americans.
The slow pace of buyouts is partly due to Princeville being wary at first about helping people leave, according to Gavin Smith, former assistant director for hazard mitigation for North Carolina and now director of the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"The town has gone back and forth on whether they wanted to pursue buyouts at all," Smith said by phone.
Matthew wasn't the first time officials have proposed using federal money to buy people's homes in Princeville. Shortly after Hurricane Floyd, North Carolina raised the idea of using federal money to buy out the entire town.
Residents rejected the proposal, during what Smith called "the most contentious public meeting I have ever attended in my career." The town turned down the state's offer.
"It's always a difficult decision about whether to stay or go," Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council who specializes in flood policy, said in an email. "For people whose homes have flooded repeatedly, it's often more cost effective to purchase their home and help them do what they want to do: move somewhere safer."
On Wednesday morning, the town was clearing out. One man, who was rushing his furniture into a U-Haul parked on his driveway, said he couldn't answer questions. "We're moving, bro," he said. "We ain't got no time right now."
A few blocks over, a woman said she was getting ready to leave after being out of her house for 1 1/2 years following Matthew. She declined to give her name, for fear that looters would target her home.
"I'll go anytime," Curtis Murphy says. "This storm might wipe Princeville out." Murphy is shown on his porch in Princeville, North Carolina, on Sept. 12, 2018. Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg (Charles Mostoller/)
Curtis Murphy, who moved to Princeville in 1958 when he was 8, sat on his porch in the deadening heat, considering when to go. Murphy's children had just taken his wife across the Tar River to a nursing home, where she could get the dialysis she needed. Murphy said he was ready to follow her, and maybe not come back.
"I'll go anytime," Murphy said. "This storm might wipe Princeville out."
That would be just fine with Lillie Gunter, who said she returned after Matthew only because her husband insisted on it.
“I hope it does wipe out,” Gunter said. “That would let my husband know that this is not a good place to live.”
A man fishes in the Detroit River, with the city skyline visible behind him. Since 2012, someone has been murdered nearly every 24 hours in Detroit. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
DETROIT - It had been less than 24 hours since homicide Lt. Michael Russell had been summoned to a killing, and now, on a hot Saturday morning in July, he was headed to yet another.
One of his sergeants texted him with a message and a location: "Man, can't get a breather, Fatal Shooting, Greiner/Fairport, John Doe."
This time, the body had been found lying in a playground in front of the swings.
Since 2012, someone has been murdered nearly every 24 hours in Detroit, a city long plagued by violence. Despite sweeping changes to make the homicide division more efficient, police arrest suspects in fewer than half of all killings.
Russell said the explanation is simple: There are too many murders and too few detectives.
"The only way you can fix it is lower crime or to get more manpower," Russell said.
Over a five-year period, each detective in Detroit has been tasked with solving an average of about eight new slayings annually - a caseload exceeding what policing experts say should be no more than five homicides per detective, per year.
Detroit police respond July 14 to a homicide scene on a playground. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Dalton Bennett/)
Major police departments that are successful at making arrests in homicides generally assign detectives fewer than five cases annually, according to a Washington Post analysis of homicide caseloads in 48 cities, including Detroit.
The Post study found that departments with lower caseloads tended to have higher arrest rates, while departments with higher caseloads tended to have lower arrest rates - 39 of the 48 departments fell within that pattern.
The findings come at a time when homicide rates have fallen nationwide, yet police are making arrests less often- in 37 of the 48 cities, homicide arrest rates have declined over the past five years.
Solving homicides often hinges on a combination of factors, including community trust, deployment of detectives and departmental morale and leadership. It takes time and effort to train seasoned homicide investigators who are effective at solving cases. But the workload of detectives can be one of the most critical factors, policing experts said, leading to failures that perpetuate the cycle of unsolved murders.
Investigators wrestling with older, still-active cases are unable to devote their full attention to new murders, police said. This leads to fewer arrests and an even deeper backlog of open cases.
To explore the connection between staffing levels and homicide arrest rates, The Post surveyed 50 major city police departments for the number of homicide detectives they employed in 2016, the last year with reliable data. That number was then compared to the average number of homicides annually from 2012 to 2016 to calculate annual caseloads per detective. Two cities - New York and Philadelphia - declined to disclose the number of homicide detectives, and two others provided only current staffing levels.
Detective Aaron Colwell of the Detroit Police Department investigates the scene of a fatal shooting in the early hours of Aug. 14. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
While there is limited academic research about the correlation between detective caseload and homicide arrest rates, a 2008 FBI study concluded that departments whose detectives had fewer than five cases a year had higher arrest rates.
"Any city that has a homicide detective handling more than five cases is kidding themselves," said Vernon Geberth, who wrote the textbook used by many police departments to teach homicide investigation. "Even the best detective can't handle more than five cases."
The Post analysis found nine departments in two categories that were exceptions to the overall pattern indicating a relationship between caseload size and arrest rate.
In five of the nine cities, detectives had lower caseloads but also had among the lowest arrest rates - Pittsburgh, Miami, Denver, Buffalo and Chicago.
Chicago had the worst arrest rate of the 50 cities surveyed - 24 percent of killings led to an arrest.
The department hired additional detectives in recent years, bringing its total number of homicide investigators to 208 and the caseload down to 3.1 killings per detective.
Kevin Graham, president of Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police, said the department has struggled for years because Chicago had been down about 100 homicide detectives due to retirements.
Children play basketball near a Detroit playground where a body was found several weeks earlier. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
"We've lost a lot of experience and knowledge in the department that hasn't been passed on to these new officers yet," Graham said.
Four other cities did not fit into the pattern because detectives had high caseloads but also had among the highest arrest rates for killings they investigated - Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Memphis and Tulsa.
In Tulsa, for example, the department has a comparatively small number of investigators - 10 detectives - who each handled an average of 5.6 killings a year. But the department made an arrest in 68 percent of the homicidesreportedfrom 2012 through 2016. Police attribute the arrest rate to their mobilization of the entire homicide unit for each case.
"We throw a lot of people at it. The whole unit comes in, the gang unit gets called in, and there is an immediate dissemination of information," said Sgt. Dave Walker, who recently retired after overseeing Tulsa's homicide unit for seven years. "We don't have the same amount of murders of a St. Louis or Chicago. You wouldn't be able to use the same strategy if you've got three murders a night. But for us, it's still manageable."
Police officials said the average caseload rates calculated by The Post, using the average number of annual homicides, may underestimate detective workloads.
In most cities, police deploy multiple detectives to investigate each homicide.
In Fresno, California, each killing is worked by a pair of detectives. In Boston, officials said the homicide unit is broken into eight squads of three or four detectives. In Richmond, Virginia, officials estimate that each detective assists in nearly 12 homicides, even though the average caseload is just under three killings per detective.
Detroit police Sgt. Andrew Guntzviller investigates the scene of a fatal shooting with his team in the early hours of Aug. 14. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
Homicides investigators also are often tasked with investigating other types of cases, including overdose deaths, suicides, accidental deaths and nonfatal shootings.
And annual average caseloads also do not take into account open homicides from recent years, which still require the management of witnesses and evidence. Those cases may eventually become "cold cases" after a certain period of time has passed, but until then, they remain the responsibility of the detectives assigned to them.
In St. Louis, the department's 24 detectives have a rate of 6.4 cases per detective each year. Detectives are handling a backlog of open cases from prior years as the city's arrest rate has steadily declined - from 56 percent in 2012 to 36 percent in 2016.
"While they may only get five for 2018, if they have something that's not solved from 2017 - one, two, three, four cases - their caseload is now nine," said Maj. Mary Warnecke, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's commander of investigative services. "It's hard to keep those open cases and then work on the ones you're getting fresh."
Many police departments never fully recovered from the Great Recession, said Rick Myers, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which comprises leaders from the largest police agencies in the United States and Canada. Police budgets and staffing levels were slashed, creating fierce internal competition for staffing - with patrol, property crime and violent crime units battling for personnel, he said.
"During a period of starvation, people are stealing bread and hiding food and not inviting anyone over for dinner. It's kind of that way when it comes to resources in a police department," Myers said. "Patrol is running short; they never have enough officers to staff their beats. But are you going to shortchange your investigative units so you can have more cops on the streets?"
In Stockton, California, police officials said they've had a shortage of homicide detectives since at least 2008, when the city was hit especially hard by the nation's foreclosure crisis. The department was forced to lay off officers, institute pay cuts and leave jobs unfilled. The impact on murder investigations was immediate: The homicide arrest rate plummeted from 68 percent in 2008 to 24 percent in 2009.
"We were losing officers like crazy," said Lt. Grant Bedford of the Stockton department's investigations division.
A variety of guns sit in a Detroit police evidence storage room. Over a five-year period, each Detroit homicide detective has been tasked with solving an average of eight new slayings annually. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
In 2012, Stockton filed for bankruptcy, and killings hit a record high of 71, which meant each member of the six-person homicide unit worked an average of more than 10 cases, Bedford said. The Post analysis found that the department's detectives handled an average of 6.2 cases each year and made an arrest in 22 percent of killings in 2016.
Bedford said that last year he put together a proposal asking that the department hire six more homicide detectives.
"They said it looked really good," Bedford said. "But I didn't get anyone."
Elbert Holman, Stockton's vice mayor and chair of the City Council's Community Improvement and Crime Prevention Committee, said the recession forced the department to cut about one-fourth of its force to repay creditors. But, he said, he thinks hiring more detectives would not increase the department's homicide arrest rate.
Holman, who supervised the homicide unit at the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office, said that Stockton's low arrest rates are because detectives have failed to develop trust among the hardest-hit communities, which are often home to poor, black or Latino residents. Holman, who is black, criticized the lack of diversity within Stockton's homicide division.
"The police department has no relationship in those neighborhoods. So people don't talk to them," Holman said. "You can put 150 more officers in homicide, and it doesn't mean you're gonna get more solved."
Officials at departments that have been able to secure funding for additional officers said they have had trouble filling the open positions because qualified job candidates are deterred by increased criticism of police use of force. Fewer recruits in the pipeline leads to a smaller pool of homicide detectives.
"This is not a very wanted job anymore," said Cmdr. Doug Eckert, who oversees the New Orleans Police Department's criminal investigations division, which had a caseload of 8.7 homicides per detective in the Post study. He said the public controversies since the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have made it difficult to recruit. "In some ways, we created some of this problem. But we're not the total problem."
Even if a department can hire new detectives, police officials said it takes time before the officers are trained and can handle cases on their own.
In Phoenix, Arizona, The Post found the rate was four homicides per detective after a hiring spree, but the experienced detectives are each juggling about six cases, officials said.
"All of the investigative bureaus got thinned out. Now we're trying to build them back up," said Capt. Sean Kennedy, who runs the Phoenix Police Department's violent crime unit. "I've got 12 brand-new detectives in my homicide unit who won't start taking cases on their own for close to a year."
When James Craig was hired in 2013 as police chief in Detroit, he became the seventh in 10 years.
He inherited a financial crisis - the city was an estimated $18 billion in debt and would soon file for bankruptcy, becoming the largest in U.S. history to do so. And his department had been under federal oversight for more than a decade for alleged civil rights violations, including illegally arresting witnesses who failed to cooperate in investigations.
"Despite that, we still had to manage running a police department," Craig said. ". . . Here, we have fewer officers and we're doing more with less."
One of Craig's first concerns was that the homicide unit was not solving enough cases - making an arrest in only one-third of its homicides. Craig promoted David LeValley from lieutenant to deputy chief and told him to come up with a new plan to solve homicides.
"A lot of our reputation as an agency . . . rests with homicide," LeValley said. "You're probably not going to look at a city and ask, 'How many larcenies are there?' "
At the time, the city's 39 homicide detectives worked around the clock in three rotating shifts. They were dispatched from the downtown office to killings across the city's 143 square miles. LeValley concluded that was too much ground for any one detective to cover.
He redeployed detectives into five investigative districts, with the deadliest areas getting the most manpower. He also eliminated the overnight shift.
Detroit Deputy Police Chief David LeValley was tasked with lifting the homicide arrest rate when he was promoted from lieutenant. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
"They're not going to be out interviewing witnesses at 4 in the morning. So they're watching movies in the office. It was a horrible waste of their time," he said.
Under the new system, detectives go home at the end of the day shift and are called back to the office and paid overtime if there is a homicide at night. By moving the night shift entirely to daytime hours, each detective gained about a week of investigative time.
LeValley said he also began to require that the lead detective visit each homicide scene to increase ownership of the cases. Before that, the overnight investigators would process the crime scene and turn over their notes to the lead detective.
"Maybe somebody went to a scene that wasn't necessarily focused, or didn't have their heart into it, because they know this isn't going to be my case," LeValley said.
Officials said they believe the organizational changes have helped: In 2013, police made an arrest in 37 percent of killings. That rate improved to 48 percent last year.
"You have all your investigators available in the daytime to deploy all your resources on these cases instead of taking your small group of people and splitting them up over a 24-hour shift," saidRussell, the Detroit police homicide lieutenant, who has worked under nearly a dozen chiefs in his 23 years with the department.
The police department remains understaffed because of recent retirements and competition with other city departments for limited resources, said Detroit City Council member Scott Benson, who chairs the council's Public Health and Safety Committee.
"I'd like to give them more resources so that we can get our closure rate above the national average," Benson said, but "we still have to clean the streets. We've got to cut the grass. We've got to be able to staff our offices. So, unfortunately, that's not the only interest to Detroit."
Detroit's detectives handled about eight cases each per year, the Post study found.
Detectives with that many cases do not have time to stay in contact with witnesses and the victim's family, brief supervisors in detail, and meet with the medical examiner, policing experts said.
David Carter, a criminologist at Michigan State University and a former police officer, recommends that each detective handle no more than three cases a year.
A smaller workload means a detective is able to respond more quickly to homicide scenes as they are discovered.
"Every piece of evidence or potential piece of evidence deteriorates with time," Carter said.
When Detroit police were called out the morning of July 14 to the John Doe found dead on a playground, they realized they were already behind: Neighbors had heard gunshots the night before. The man had been dead for at least nine hours.
Russell huddled with patrol officers and investigators. He took a call from his captain.
"He's laying in the grass . . . We don't know if he is from the neighborhood," Russell told his boss. "We are doing canvasses, trying to tighten up the timeline. . . . That's all we got."
Someone from the medical examiner's office pulled the white sheet back from the facedown body: The victim was thin and wearing a black T-shirt, jeans and a pair of Jordans.
Bullets had torn into the back of his shirt.
The official flipped the body over so they could see the man's face. He searched his pockets.
A wad of cash, about $200, was still in his pocket. Police surmised that this was not a robbery and that the victim probably knew his killer. They found a 30-round magazine tucked into the dead man's pants, but no gun. A cellphone was next to his body.
The call history showed that three people had repeatedly phoned the victim - but stopped just before the killing.
Police found video surveillance footage from a store in the area that showed the victim with two men about two hours before the homicide. Police also found witnesses who said they heard gunshots and saw those two men and a third person flee the park. Police identified the men and soon determined they were the ones who had been calling the victim.
Police arrested two of the men and charged them with murder in the death of 19-year-old Armani Keith VanBuren. The third suspect has not been arrested. VanBuren's family could not be reached for comment.
"Without the phone, it would have been much more difficult," said Eugene Schaden, the lead detective in the case. "I think we could have gotten there eventually, but not nearly as quickly as we did."
The Washington Post’s Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.
PALMER — A plane crash Saturday night in Willow occurred during the pilot's first night training since she got her certification a month earlier.
That's according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The crash a little over a mile north-northeast of the Willow Airport seriously injured the pilot and a flight instructor and substantially damaged the plane, a Cessna U206.
The pilot, 20-year-old Robin C. Spaulding, was on her first night training flight since she got her private pilot certification Aug. 9, according to the report filed by NTSB investigator Noreen Price. With her was instructor John P. Cabaud, 29, who had provided most of Spaulding's initial pilot training.
Both are from Talkeetna.
Night flying is part of the pilot certification process, but because of Alaska's long summer days, pilots here fall under an exception that gives them 12 months after they get certified to finish night training.
Cabaud is a flight instructor at Alaska Floats & Skis in Talkeetna. But he was not working the night of the crash, a company representative said Thursday. Spaulding was a private client.
Spaulding told Price during a phone interview after the crash that the two pilots planned stop-and-go landings at multiple airports, according to the report. They left Talkeetna around 8:30 p.m. Sunset at Willow was 8:45 p.m. and moonset about 10 minutes later.
Spaulding said they completed a full-stop landing at Willow and then took off for another try, Price wrote. After takeoff, as she climbed to 1,000 feet, Spaulding said she started a right, crosswind turn "into a dark area with no visible horizon."
She told Price that the last thing she remembered was hearing Cabaud say, "What's wrong with your attitude indicator?" before the plane dropped and crashed, Price stated.
Cabaud, in a separate interview, told another investigator that he "felt something was wrong" — the horizon wasn't visible, the wind stream sounded unusual — when Spaulding started her right turn over dark terrain, the report says. He said he took the controls but the plane crashed before he could recover.
The injured pilots scrambled out of the wreckage through a tear in the fuselage and managed to find Spaulding's cell phone to call a relative, who called Alaska State Troopers, according to the report.
But troopers and emergency responders couldn't access the site of the crash on foot, authorities said.
The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center picked up a signal from the plane's 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter just before midnight, the NTSB says. An Air National Guard Pave Hawk helicopter picked the pilots up at about 1:50 a.m.
Spaulding and Cabaud couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
They're lucky to be alive, authorities said.
The NTSB is encouraging pilots to replace older models with the 406 transmitter.
"We couldn't have had a better outcome," said Clint Johnson, the NTSB's Alaska chief. "Having that 406 ELT is worth its weight in gold."
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump drew widespread rebukes Thursday - including from several fellow Republicans - after falsely claiming that the number of deaths attributable to Hurricane Maria had been inflated by Democrats to “make me look as bad as possible.”
In morning tweets, Trump took issue with the findings of a sweeping report released last month by George Washington University that estimated there were 2,975 "excess deaths" in the six months after the storm made landfall in Puerto Rico in September 2017.
Trump said on Twitter that "they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths" when he visited the island about two weeks after the storm.
"As time went by it did not go up by much," Trump wrote. "Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000. ... This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!"
3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
.....This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
Trump's tweets - which came as a highly dangerous Hurricane Florence churned toward the Carolinas - misrepresented the nature of the study and were harshly criticized by Democrats in Congress, as well as by some Republicans.
Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, R-Fla., told reporters she believes the figure of nearly 3,000 is sound.
"What kind of mind twists that statistic into 'Oh, fake news is trying to hurt my image,'" she said. "How can you be so self-centered and try to distort the truth so much? It's mind boggling."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican whose Senate bid has been endorsed by Trump, said in a tweet that he disagreed with the president, relaying that "an independent study said thousands were lost" and that he had been to Puerto Rico seven times and "saw the devastation firsthand."
In a statement, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, called on Trump to “resign at once.”
"The fact that the President will not take responsibility for his Administration's failures and will not even recognize that thousands have perished shows us, once again, that he is not fit to serve as our President," Thompson said.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who publicly pleaded with Trump for a stronger response to the storm, also blasted the president.
"President Trump's statement, questioning the deaths in Puerto Rico, shows a lack of respect for our reality and our pain," she said in a statement. "He simply is unable to grasp the human suffering that his neglect and lack of sensibility have caused us. 3000 people died on his watch and his inability to grasp that makes him dangerous."
During a news conference on Capitol Hill later Thursday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., avoided directly criticizing Trump but said he had no reason to dispute the study's findings.
"This was a function of a devastating storm hitting an isolated island, and that is really no one's fault," Ryan said. "The casualties mounted for a long time, and I have no reason to dispute those numbers."
Carlos Santos-Burgoa, the principal investigator of the GWU study and a professor in the Department of Global Health, said Friday afternoon that he and his colleagues were unbiased in their work and received no political pressure from Democrats or anyone else to come up with a high estimate of storm-related deaths.
"We stand by the science underlying our study. It is rigorous. It's state of the art. We collected the data from the official sources. Everything can be validated," Santos-Burgoa told The Washington Post. "We didn't receive any pressure from anybody to go this way or that way. We wouldn't do it. We are professionals of public health."
In his tweets, Trump thoroughly mischaracterized how the GWU researchers came up with the figure of 2,975 excess deaths. They did not, contrary to the president's claim, attribute any specific individual's death to Hurricane Maria. Given the methodology, there was not an opportunity to misclassify someone who died from old age, as Trump suggested.
Rather, the GWU study looked at the number of deaths from September 2017 to February 2018 and compared that total to what would have been expected based on historical patterns. They factored in many variables, including the departure of hundreds of thousands of island residents in the aftermath of Maria.
A clear pattern emerged from the analysis: The mortality rate spiked in the months after the storm, particularly in the poorest areas of Puerto Rico, and among elderly males.
The unusually high death rate never completely reached the normal level even after six months, the researchers found - a sign of Puerto Rico's continued struggle to deal with the effects of the hurricane.
Had the GWU researchers done what Trump claimed they did - attributing any death to Maria - the six-month death toll from the hurricane would have been 16,608.
The study's methodology was designed to overcome the lack of information contained in death certificates of people who died in Puerto Rico during those six months. This approach also captured the human health consequences of the island's devastation, which included power outages lasting for months, disease outbreaks, water insecurity and a lack of adequate health care.
The researchers have acknowledged the limitation of this kind of statistical study. They did not knock on doors or learn the individual stories of who died, and when, and why. That kind of in-depth investigation would be worthy, the GWU researchers said.
FILE - In this June 1, 2018 file photo, a child shines a light on hundreds of shoes at a memorial for those killed by Hurricane Maria, in front of the Puerto Rico Capitol in San Juan. Puerto Rico has conceded that Hurricane Maria killed more than 1,400 people on the island last year and not just the 64 in the official death toll. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) (Ramon Espinosa/)
The government of Puerto Rico has accepted the 2,975 figure as the official death toll from Maria. For much of the past year, officials had acknowledged only 64 deaths from the storm.
Santos-Burgoa said he'd like to do a follow-up study that focuses on "cause-specific" mortality. He said the researchers are actively seeking funding for such work.
"We need a phase where we go more granular, more in detail, and we have to go and reconstruct what actually happened," he said. Such research could help limit the death tolls from future disasters, he said.
The president's tweets come on the heels of a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll in which Puerto Ricans gave low marks to Trump, along with the federal and local governments, for last year's response to Maria. Eighty percent said Trump had done either a poor or fair job responding.
Survey findings support the widespread nature of deaths related to the storm, with about 1 in 5 Puerto Rico residents saying a close friend or family member died either from injuries caused by the storm or because they were unable to get sufficient water, food or medical care in the months afterward.
Earlier this week, Trump hailed his administration's response to Maria as "an incredible, unsung success."
It was "one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he was receiving a briefing on Hurricane Florence.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency itself has acknowledged that it was ill-prepared for the storm.
Asked why Trump seems unable to admit shortcomings, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that he thinks "the president sees every attack on him as sort of undercutting his legitimacy."
"I don't think it's bad to say we could've done better in Puerto Rico," said Graham, a frequent Trump ally. "I don't think you want to declare a success when people die. The point is, 'Did you do everything you could do within reason?' I don't know the answer to that question. There's always mistakes in every hurricane."
Aside from the claims made in Trump's latest tweets, many lawmakers said Thursday that they were troubled by the continuing debate over the response to Maria at a time when officials should be focused on Florence.
"We should all be focused on what's about to happen in the Carolinas and not be politicizing this issue of hurricane and hurricane relief," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.). "It's always difficult to respond to a natural disaster and certainly on an island like Puerto Rico that was evident. . . . A lot of lessons to be learned."
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters he found the back and forth over Maria "kind of odd" given the seriousness of Florence.
"We should be talking about what's happening in North Carolina and the folks that are preparing for a terrible storm," he said.
Trump's tweets about Maria were part of a spate of others from the president on Thursday morning. Some warned of the dangers of Florence, while others attacked the FBI and touted the strong economy under his watch.
- - -
The Washington Post’s Mike Debonis and Sueng Min Kim contributed to this report.
Originally published Jan. 10, 1988. First in a series.
If it happened in any city in the country, it would make headlines nationwide: a rash of suicides and violent deaths punctuated by rapes, beatings and child abuse.
But the crisis in Alaska's villages is a quiet crisis. When hope dies, it dies silently. And the epidemic of despair that is robbing an entire generation of its birthright happens far from city lights.
Today, the Daily News begins a series that will detail that crisis. These stories run not as a criticism but as a warning to us all. The Native culture that is the heritage of all Alaskans is endangered, threatened by alcoholism, helplessness and despair. From Fort Yukon to Kake, Alaska Natives are dying in vastly disproportionate numbers.
The causes are complicated and varied, but one constant appears over and over again: booze.
In rural Alaska, alcohol is misery's mask. One hundred economic and social problems may lie behind it, but until the mask is laid aside no one can see them clearly.
Make no mistake, Alaska's predominantly white cities offer their own share of grief. Violence born of liquor is no stranger here. But the the statistics gradually emerging from the Bush point inexorably to an entire culture in peril.
* Alaska Natives are four times as likely to commit suicide as other Alaskans;
* Alaska Native men between the ages of 20 and 24 are 10 times more likely to kill themselves than nonNatives nationwide;
* Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, where a pregnant woman's drinking damages her unborn child, is 21|2 more times more common among Native women than nonnatives;
* Natives comprise only 16 percent of Alaska's population, but make up 34 percent of its prison inmates;
* While the official U.S. Department of Labor unemployment figure for the Yukon-Koyukuk region is 15.5 percent, experts say that if “discouraged workers” those who have given up were included, that figure would be two or three times higher; and
* Even when they come to the cities in search of jobs or a new life, Natives in Anchorage are three times more likely to be raped, four times more likely to die violent deaths than non-Natives.
Yet the numbers remain cold and impersonal. One cannot remain impersonal in the Bush. There are no statistics in the villages, there are husbands and wives, cousins and neighbors entire families whose potential is lost and whose despair passes from one generation to the next.
Gradually, though, the code of silence is being broken and the people themselves are talking, exploring ways to break the cycle. By confronting the hegemony of the white culture, they hope to retain their own. It is a sobriety movement born of pain, and it is the best hope for village Alaska.
We talked to many villagers in preparing these articles, including a woman who has lost two sons to suicide. Adeline Edmund's son, Louis, was 22 and a former Alakanuk honor student when he shot himself in the heart on the tundra behind his village. Louis' brother, Benji, was 21 when he killed himself 14 months later.
"Write it down, " Adeline Edmund said, so others can learn. In that spirit, we have.
Other articles in the series:
Originally published Jan. 14, 1988. Part of a series.
BETHEL -- A sole Alascom telegram office has survived the communications revolution that brought telephones to nearly every village in the Bush.
The office is in Bethel, and it owes its staying power to a steady accumulation of crumpled currency shoved through a slot beneath tinted, bulletproof glass.
The cash, $100 and $200 at a time, comes from bootleggers and whiskey drinkers wiring money orders to Anchorage liquor stores.
The office is a humming pump, nourishing the headwaters of Alaska’s fearsome river of booze.
Though Alascom shut its other Bush telegram counters over the past decade, the Bethel office is different. The continuous flow of alcohol business rings up $800,000 a year in money orders and represents 95 percent of the money wires out of Bethel. Though the liquor stores are 225 miles away, the network linking them with Alascom and the airlines guarantees sameday delivery and mocks Bethel's voterapproved ban on intown liquor sales.
Alascom is one of dozens of legitimate enterprises whose decisions and policies, sometimes passively, sometimes not, have kept the floodgates wide open for bootleggers and consumers of lowgrade whiskey in villages, both wet and dry.
Alascom, like most of the others, says it shouldn't be asked to play policeman and go beyond the restrictions imposed by society itself. "It's a judgment call we can't make, " said spokesman Tom Jensen.
Yet the aftermath of those business choices is widespread death, violence, abuse and neglect for adults whose choice it is to binge, and for children and other victims who find themselves trapped inside another's nightmare.
A passive state liquor agency with a history of toothless regulations, an ineffective local option law, flagrant bootlegging and ambiguous community standards have kept the flood of liquor unchecked. Because liquor starts out as a legal commodity, unlike marijuana or cocaine, gray and blackmarketeers openly take advantage of the network that ties together even the remotest parts of Alaska for legal commerce.
In recognition of the role of alcohol in human misery, the legislature has offered communities a menu of options for its control, ranging from communityowned liquor stores to a complete ban on possession. Some 82 places, from the Kuskokwim Delta center of Bethel, population 4,462, to the Athabascan hamlet of Birch Creek, population 40, have chosen to restrict the sale or possession of booze.
But residents of those places and the authorities who enforce the laws readily admit that even in the most restrictive villages, where arriving travelers are frisked for flasks, there are still ways for the booze to get in.
Some of it is due to the ingenuity of bootleggers. By uncorking a jug and filling it to the brim before hiding it in a suitcase, they can avoid the telltale gurgle a conscientious baggage handler might detect. Plastic bottles have eliminated the risk of breakage and the giveaway odor.
It is 1:15 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in October. A steady flow of customers has journeyed to the silversided building, beside the huge satellite dish, where Alascom conducts its telegram business. It is just up a dirt street from the Kuskokwim River and the office of Bush Air Service, whose owner was recently charged with transporting liquor to a dry village.
In walks a man with bushyblond hair. "You must be glad it's Friday, " says the Alascom agent, making small talk. "What difference does it make to me?" replies the customer. "One day of the week is the same as the next." He wires $172 to Party Time Liquor in Anchorage.
The next customer, a Native man with the smell of liquor on his breath, sends $219.74 to International Liquor, also in Anchorage.
"Hello, Al, " a clerk says to another man. "$189.50, Party Time, " he replies. He pushes a wad of bills through the window, she gives him back some change. Then she walks to the teletype machine. In seconds, the message beams from the dish outside to the satellite Aurora, and back down to the Alascom office in Anchorage. In minutes, a check is ready for Party Time.
ORDERS FROM ANIAK
Like Bethel and a halfdozen other communities in Alaska, the Kuskokwim River village of Aniak has banned the sale of booze, but not its possession or importation.
On a Friday afternoon last October, Postmaster Leonard Morgan was on the phone to a customer. The weather outside was rotten snow, wind and low clouds and Morgan told his customer that the Northern Air Cargo plane would be late, so there was still time to get a postal money order shipped by Express Mail to a liquor store in Anchorage.
The oneday Express Mail service provided by the Aniak post office attracts booze customers from as far away as Kalskag, 25 miles downriver. In the summer, they make the twohour journey by boat, and in winter, in a quarter of the time, by snowmachine or truck on the frozen river. If they make the mail deadline, they'll be back the next day to pick up their shipments at 1:30 p.m. when the Northern Air Cargo DC6 roars into town.
Where do those orders go?
Primarily to a halfdozen liquor stores in Anchorage and Fairbanks that specialize in the Bush trade, some of which have teamed up with airlines to offer drinkers a package deal.
Since territorial days, Alaska has allowed people to place orders for alcoholic beverages through the mail for shipment by common carrier. In 1980, the legislature revamped the liquor code and eliminated restrictions on the amount that can be shipped.
Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regulations that went into effect in November require the liquor store to notify the board when an order is 20 gallons or more the equivalent of about 81|2 cases of Windsor Canadian in plastic bottles. Though the rule was supposed to detect bootleggers, loopholes remain, conceded Bill Roche, the commission's chief investigator. Bootleggers selling a case or two a week don't need to place single orders in such a large quantity, he said, and even if they did, they could avoid detection by splitting their orders among several stores, or having confederates place orders.
If 20 gallons proves too loose a restriction, Roche said, the board may change it.
The new rules will mainly affect the few stores that specialize in mailorder sales. In Anchorage, according to ABC board staff, they are Party Time Liquors, Value Liquor, International Liquor, Our Liquor and Brown Jug Warehouse.
According to records filed with the Alaska Department of Revenue, Party Time No. 2, on Spenard Road, where the Bush sales are made, sold an average of 1,400 gallons of hard liquor a month over the past year, the equivalent of 5,000 "jugs." That's more than twice its nearest mailorder competitor, Value Liquor No. 3 on Jewel Lake Road.
The records don't show the proportion of liquor sold over the counter as opposed to mail order, and Party Time owners Michael and Paula Gallagher won't discuss their business. But their competitors estimate that as much as 75 to 80 percent of their sales from the Spenard store goes to the Bush.
In an interview in Bethel, a selfdescribed bootlegger said he prefers Party Time because it understands his needs. Clerks ship the bottles in innocuous cartons, like those for potato chips, he said, so "no one can see what you are getting in the box."
And evidence now in court indicates that Party Time may have been increasing its sales by actively courting the bootleg trade. In addition to opening the operations of Party Time to public view, the unusual lawsuit, brought in Superior Court in Bethel, has shown the state liquor board to be ineffective in policing mailorder sales.
The suit, filed in 1986 and not yet tried, was brought by the parents of Moses Strauss Jr., a 20yearold minor when he was struck by a Bethel city bus on Jan. 14, 1986, and suffered severe head injuries. The suit charges that Strauss was drunk at the time and that he bought his liquor from Malachy Polty, a customer of Party Time.
The Gallaghers declined to be interviewed. Through their attorney, they denied the Strausses' allegations. "We are confident we will be found blameless when all of the facts are presented to a judge and jury. However, we and our attorneys believe it is highly inappropriate to try cases in the press, " they said in a prepared statement.
Depositions and documents obtained by the Strausses' attorney, Kneeland Taylor, include the record of a previously undisclosed 1985 investigation by the beverage commission into allegations that Party Time flouted mailorder rules, shipped to customers from dry villages, and was likely dealing with bootleggers.
In visits to Party Time's store at 4006 Spenard Road over a sixmonth period, agency investigator Virginia Holland found that the store was helping its largeorder customers over regulatory hurdles designed to slow the flow of booze to the Bush, keep liquor from the hands of minors and discourage impulse consumption and binge drinking.
Among the requirements of the law then and now, according to Roche, the beverage board's enforcement officer, was that mailorder customers send the liquor store a signed, written request for each purchase.
Party Time took a creative approach to the rule. According to the depositions, it told customers to mail a batch of signed order forms filled in with huge quantities of anything they could possibly want. Then, when they decided to actually make a purchase, they called Party Time, directed which part of the order to fill, and wired the cash by Alascom. The Party Time clerk scratched off the portion of the order that was filled, leaving the remainder for the next call.
About 2:30 each afternoon, the Party Time truck would leave the liquor store for the MarkAir SpeedMark package express window at the airport for sameday delivery to Bethel.
On a single day, April 12, 1985, most of the orders that left Party Time for the Bush came from forms with matching handwriting but different names, according to the investigation report. In a later visit to the store, Holland uncovered orders from residents of Napakiak and Nunapitchuk, two dry villages in the YukonKuskokwim Delta.
On Jan. 6, 1986, ABC board Executive Director Patrick Sharrock signed the report of his investigators recommending suspension or revocation of Party Time's license for a pattern of ongoing violations: accepting telephone orders, shipping liquor to customers in dry villages and failing to correct deficiencies pointed out during the course of the investigation.
Three days later, Party Time attorney Dan Coffey responded that the fault was not with the store, but with vague regulations. He accused investigator Holland of writing "rules and regulations herself."
In a letter to the beverage board on March 10, 1986, Assistant Attorney General Kay Gouwens recommended against prosecution.
"I understand and sympathize with your concerns about package stores such as this that have a large volume of Bush sales and seem undaunted by the fact that some of what they sell almost certainly finds its way to villages that have banned importation, to bootleggers, and to individuals with drinking problems, " she wrote. "However, our existing statutes and regulations are poorly equipped to deal with the problem."
The ABC case was shelved. It took a year and a half to implement new regulations that clarify the absolute ban on telephone orders.
PLENTY OF "LOOPHOLES'
Holland quit her job in March 1986 and moved to Seattle. In a recent interview, she said her tenure at the liquor board was an exercise in futility. The kinds of violations she observed at Party Time could be found in other liquor stores that ship to the Bush, she said.
"My foremost frustration was the way the regulations were written. They were very vague and nebulous and although anyone can read them and know the intent of the law, they leave all sorts of loopholes for someone who doesn't have a conscience to violate them, " she said.
She said she didn't find much official support from either the attorney general's office or the ABC board. The people in positions of authority didn't seem to want to make the effort to fight bootlegging by controlling sales.
"If there is a general consensus, it is that (bootlegging) is one of those victimless crimes. People up there want liquor. People in Anchorage are willing to send it. And nobody gets hurt."
Roche and Sharrock said they sympathized with Holland's frustrations, but they said she quit before the last chapter of her investigation was written. Roche said the liquor board saw the need for tighter rules, and responded with the new regulations.
In their suit against Party Time, the Strausses built their case upon the ABC investigation. By using a computer to examine subpoenaed records, they've taken it much further.
During 1986, the Strausses reported, Party Time shipped $475,445.19 in booze to Bethel.
They also documented that the 11 biggest Party Time customers bought 12,175 bottles of whiskey and 2,430 cases of beer during the year, for a total of $125,775.89.
That averages out to three bottles of whiskey and 72 cans of beer a day for each buyer.
Assuming the proportions of beer to whiskey are roughly comparable among all buyers as they are with the top 11, Party Time's sales to Bethel would translate to a hard liquor per capita adult consumption rate of of 3.6 gallons more than one and half times the national rate.
And Party Time is only one of five Anchorage liquor stores selling directly to Bethel. Adding to the consumption would be whiskey carried in luggage or booze purchased over the counter and shipped by individuals themselves.
It all goes to a town where the sale of liquor is officially outlawed.
Between Jan. 6 and June 18, 1986, defendant Polty spent $6,471.46 at Party Time, and among his purchases were 480 bottles of whiskey, according to the court record.
To preserve the privacy of the other Party Time patrons, their names were not disclosed in the court filings. But a computer printout showed that one of them, identified as "Customer 1, " bought 283 bottles of whiskey between June 2 and July 12, 1986, a period that includes the busy Fourth of July holiday. The most orders went to "Customer 11, " who spent $23,239.47 during the calendar year on 2,423 bottles of whiskey, six bottles of other hard liquor and 21 cases of beer.
The July 14, 1987, affidavit of a former employee, Edith Turkington, accused the Gallagher's soninlaw, Richard Marietta, of forging signatures on Bush order forms.
From a backroom office crammed to the ceiling with booze, she and Marietta would take orders over the telephone or by mail. "Each day we would call Alascom and see who had sent money in, " she testified.
When a phone order arrived from a regular customer, she or Marietta searched the customer's file for an order form. The forms were often blank, with only the signature of the customer at the bottom, she said.
"On many occasions, we would not have a signed blank order form and Richard just forged the signature, " she said.
The Gallaghers kept a ledger for each customer, Turkington testified. "On some of the pages in the book, the word "bootlegger' was written. I asked Richard Marietta what that meant, and he just said it was a person who sold booze out in the Bush.
"We shipped large liquor orders to persons who were marked as "bootleggers' in the book. As far as I know, we treated bootleggers just the same as anyone else, although Mike Gallagher often would give discounts and free booze to persons ordering large amounts of liquor."
Attempts to locate Marietta were unsuccessful. An employee of Party Time said Marietta was in California, but didn't know where. Paula Gallagher said she couldn't provide his location or a way to reach him.
In Aniak one Friday afternoon in October, a Northern Air Cargo DC6 touches down on the runway in the center of town, a few minutes behind a MarkAir jet. It taxis to the terminal area. A forklift goes to work on the freight pallets. Within an hour, both planes are back in the sky.
The Northern Air Freight plane leaves four shipments of booze, three of them cases of whiskey and beer for men suspected of bootlegging by the local police. Shipping records show that one of the men has received three cases of whiskey over the past six days.
Outside, two men, each with a case of beer tucked under an arm, tread from the MarkAir terminal toward a river slough. They are met by a woman, who helps them load the beer into a pair of boats. After pausing for a drink, they take off up the slough and disappear around the bend, a tiny current in the big river of booze.
Half an hour later, Tommy Toms of Aniak is perched on a bluff above the same slough. He and a friend are holding the cases of beer and whiskey that arrived under his name at Northern Air, and they have cracked the beer case and are drinking.
He's no bootlegger, Toms says, but he also doesn't believe it is wrong for anyone to buy or sell liquor. "It's their money, they could do what they want. There should be no law in spending money the way you want."
A third friend emerges from the thicket below. He ambles up the hill, chats for a few minutes, then hoists the two cases to his shoulders and turns back the way he came.
The next day, Aniak police report a complaint from Kalskag that Toms was bootlegging there.
FLIGHTS FOR BOOZE
Airlines large and small are huge channels for Alaska's river of booze. Their role was recognized last year by an elders council of the Seward Peninsula and the northern Bering Sea islands. In a formal resolution, they asked air carriers to refuse liquor shipments to the Bering Straits villages.
A more discreet role is played by private planes.
James Michelangelo, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board's office in Anchorage, said he believes that booze is the cargo aboard some of the hundreds of planes that take off each day from Merrill Field, one of the nation's busiest airports. The only time anyone knows for sure, though, is when something goes wrong.
That happened Jan. 24, 1987, when a singleengine plane crashed on takeoff at Merrill. The pilot survived, but was uncooperative with authorities, Michelangelo said. He gave his address as General Delivery, Bethel.
When authorities went through the plane, they found it loaded with liquor.
"They had booze up the kazoo, " Michelangelo said.
Michelangelo said alcohol, in small amounts, is suspected as a hidden cargo on a Yute Air mail plane that crashed and exploded May 7, 1987, on a hillside near Chefornak, killing the pilot. The flight manifest listed no volatile liquids, yet the plane burned with a ferocity that could only have been fueled by an extremely flammable cargo, he said.
Most booze, at least to Bethel and the surrounding wet villages, moves on scheduled airlines and air taxis. For some, the business can be an important part of the profit picture.
Phil Hoversten, once an official for nowdefunct Wien Air Alaska, said the expedited booze packages that arrived on Fridays brought in enough money to cover the entire weekly payroll of the Bethel staff. "We'd get 100 to 150 packages at 50 bucks a crack, " he said.
Audi Air, a commuter airline based in Fairbanks that serves the Inupiat and Athabascan communities of the North Slope and Interior, has a pad of order forms from International Liquor of Fairbanks stuck on the wall of its Fort Yukon terminal.
MarkAir has had promotions with liquor stores. Brown Jug has distributed flyers saying it has teamed up with MarkAir to bring speedy and convenient service to Bethel. MarkAir will pick up checks and money orders at its counter in Bethel, whiz them to Anchorage for delivery to Brown Jug, and have the the booze waiting for the customer by the next day with no Alascom charges.
MarkAir's express package rates are the best to Bethel. Clerks at Party Time and Our Liquor in Anchorage recommend the price and convenience of the daily 3:45 p.m. MarkAir flight to Bethel. The cost for up to 70 pounds is $36.75 for a SpeedMark versus $47 for an Alaska Airlines Goldstreak, they said.
MarkAir's former Bethel station manager, Kent Harding, says the airlines should shoulder more responsibility for controlling booze.
"Anyone that lives in a community management or employees should like to see bootlegging controlled, " said Harding, now a sergeant with the Bethel police department.
But that attitude got him in trouble when he worked for MarkAir, he said.
"When a box (not marked as liquor) came in that would go slosh, that had obvious signs of liquor, we would bring it to the attention of police. They would get a search warrant. And it would be safe to say that what was reported turned out 100 percent of the time to being alcohol."
Harding said the concealment of the liquor indicated that it was bound for the bootleg market and justified a search warrant.
But his attitude made his bosses unhappy, he said. "You can either be an employee of MarkAir and keep the revenue, or go back to being a cop, " he quoted them as saying. So he quit.
MarkAir President Ralph Brumbaugh declined to respond to Harding's comments.
Officials of airlines in Alaska say they refuse to ship liquor to dry villages. But most say they are dutybound to carry all legal cargo and booze to Bethel and most western Alaska villages is legal.
MAKING A STAND
One airline is different. Bering Air decided to just say no.
The airline offers commuter service to 17 northwest villages out of Nome and serves as a contract carrier for continuing Alaska Airlines passengers and cargo.
Bering Air President Jim Rowe said the airline will carry no booze to any village, wet or dry.
"It was my choice, " said Rowe, who has flown in the area for 14 years.
"I'm responsible for the impact of this company on the people it serves. The fact is that we do provide a lot of services for the troopers, and we're on medevac duty. When there's an emergency call to go out to a village, if you're the pilot and it's 2 o'clock in the morning, and you're looking at somebody about to go into a body bag, and the troopers ask where they got the booze, I don't want them pointing their fingers at me.
"Anytime I get a call that someone's hurt in a village, it's somebody I know. There are villages where there are 13, 14yearold kids having alcohol problems, and I may have flown the mother to the hospital to have those kids. So it's personal."
Rowe said he has no delusion that his action is diminishing the flow of booze into the villages. With the exception of Little Diomede, at least one other carrier serves each of his destinations, and none flies by his rules.
Alaska Airlines was not happy with his decision because of concerns that it would run afoul of common carrier regulations. Rowe said he sympathizes with their concerns.
"Even though we're certified the same as MarkAir or Alaska, it's harder politically (for them) to make the stand we have. Alaska Airlines doesn't support our stand. They're a publicly held company. If they make a stand such as we have, it goes all the way back to Washington, D.C. When Bering Air does it, there's only one person it comes back to, Jim Rowe.
"One hundred percent of all the mail we had was positive, " he said, including letters from local councils and elders. "No one has even suggested we were out of line. Having alcohol in the villages is not a position that's easily defended. There are not many good points for alcohol abuse."
While other airline companies have not followed Rowe's example, some individual pilots have.
"NO MORE BOOZE FLIGHTS'
It is a cool, windy morning in October, 8 a.m., and there is no hint yet of dawn. Pilot Jim Twedo walks into the Ryan Air Service terminal at Unalakleet.
"No more booze flights, " he tells the ticket counter clerk, with a note of disgust in his voice. "I'm not doing any more."
Later, during the flight to Nome, he talks about the last straw: a flight chartered the previous day by two women to the nearest liquor store. It was in Galena, 130 miles away.
"People's permanent fund checks have just come in, and they're taking charters to get booze, " he says. "They don't have food for their kids at home. Their kids don't have good shoes and jackets for the winter. I don't want to be a part of it anymore. It makes me feel guilty.
"You just got to draw the line, " he says. "I'm just tired of seeing the kids of parents I've taken sitting outside crying because their parents are home drunk."
If recent history is any example, Twedo’s action would only divert the business somewhere else, like a small weir in the river of booze.
Authorities say they are shifting focus to investigate a possible crime in the disappearance of 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr, missing for a week in the Northwest Arctic city of Kotzebue.
Ashley Johnson-Barr, 10, did not return home after going outside to play Sept 6. (Photo provided by Kotzebue Police Department)
The news announced Thursday morning by Alaska State Troopers changes the tenor of a massive search that's covered nearly 10 square miles and involved more than 1,000 hours of time from a mix of FBI, troopers, local police and an armada of civilian volunteers.
Troopers Lt. Dave Hanson issued a statement Thursday: "Given the length of time that Ashley has been missing and the exhaustive efforts that have yet to result in her being found and reunited with family, as of this morning, we are shifting our focus towards the ongoing law enforcement investigation, including whether criminal activity may have been involved in her disappearance."
Search-and-rescue operations will continue in coastal areas and at water access points, troopers say. But they are ramping up calls for the public's help as law enforcement pursues leads and follows up on tips.
Tips from the Kotzebue area can be called or texted to 907-995-3890. People outside Kotzebue can call 907-451-5100, and reference case number AK18064447.
"Again, we are confident that someone in this community knows what happened to Ashley and needs to come forward and share that information with us," Hanson said.
Johnson-Barr was reported missing after she was seen heading home from Rainbow Park playground around 5:30 or 6 p.m. Sept. 6 but never arrived. Her phone was found in the street near the NANA Regional Corp. building, which is in the opposite direction.
The shift in focus announced Thursday doesn't necessarily mean authorities have determined something criminal happened, Alaska Department of Public Safety spokesman Jonathon Taylor said.
"We're still pursuing all aspects of the investigation and trying to determine the circumstances around her disappearance," Taylor said. "There may have been criminal activity, there may not have been."
It's also possible that Johnson-Barr's disappearance is the result of "a tragic accident," he said.
Searchers and law enforcement have knocked on doors throughout the city of 3,500 residents that's a hub for the region. Dive teams and aircraft have searched the waters of Kotzebue Sound, Swan Lake and Kotzebue Lagoon.
The search includes 17 FBI agents — some from the Lower 48 — as well as 10 troopers, three Kotzebue police officers and a village public safety officer. Dozens of civilian volunteers got time off work to help. Some put off the fall caribou hunt to look for Johnson-Barr.
Dean Lukin, one of three Kotzebue Fire Department divers searching Swan Lake Wednesday, spent seven hours looking for 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr. A water search resumed Thursday as officials said they’re also focusing on a criminal investigation. (Courtesy Maija Lukin)
People in neighboring villages of Buckland, Kivalina and Noatak are also knocking on doors there, according to Kotzebue resident Maija Lukin.
People around the region, in other states and even other countries have stopped and prayed for the girl every evening at 5:30 since last weekend, Lukin said.
About 150 people gathered Wednesday evening for a walk to Rainbow Park to pray and sing and support Josie Johnson and Scotty Barr, the girl's parents.
"We all think that, if this was our child, we would be there," said Kookie Ito, a Kotzebue resident who helped organize the walk.
A candlelight vigil was planned for Thursday night.
In response to Mr. Smith's recent letter, "No to Walker," because of the dividend cut.
The PFD was never meant as an entitlement. If all the money had gone into the Permanent Fund, all generations of Alaskans would have benefited equally, not just those of us who are here while oil is flowing. Look at Norway: A $1 trillion permanent fund, free health care and retirement. I also wonder how many have come to Alaska to reap the benefits of the dividend, and what the cost of those moves is to society.
— Greg Svendsen
Have something on your mind? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.
I would like to add my voice in encouraging Mark Begich to resign from our upcoming gubernatorial election, even after the official deadline. Too much is at stake! I honestly cannot understand Mr. Begich's motivation. He is truly throwing a wrench into this election and guaranteeing that Alaska will go backward instead of forward.
The independent coalition of Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott deserves to continue in their progress of bringing Alaskans together and working toward fact-based solutions for our state's complex issues. I do not always agree with some of their particular decisions, but overall they are on the right track.
— Jo Ann Asher
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I am a partner in an Alaska-based engineering company that is completely supported by construction and growth in this state. We employ many Alaskans who love this state and want to see it succeed for the long-term. Currently, overregulation in the oil and gas sector has led to many projects not being funded or completed.
From a professional perspective, these projects would have had little to no environmental impact. Unfortunately, uncertainty about the time and expense required to seek regulatory approvals made the projects uneconomic, and they ended up back on the shelf, resulting in lost jobs and economic opportunity.
We strongly feel that Ballot Measure 1 is a massive overreaction and will guarantee more bureaucracy and less economic growth in Alaska. Perhaps we could improve measures to balance development and environmental protection in this state, but Ballot Measure 1 is not the answer, and in fact, will only make the situation worse. I am voting no on Ballot Measure 1 in November for the sake of Alaska jobs that support Alaska families.
— Timothy Flynn
Have something on your mind? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.
Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (Gerry Broome/)
RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina legislators voted in 2012 to ban the use of a report that showed the ocean could rise as much as 39 inches by 2100.
Now, with Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas, and thousands evacuating from the coast, that decision is once again making national headlines and drawing criticism from those who say state leaders who approved the bill were nearsighted.
Some are saying the 2012 law could mean more damage from storms like Florence.
In 2010, a panel of scientists from the Coastal Resources Commission presented a report that showed sea levels along the Carolina coast could rise 39 inches over a century, which could put 2,000 square miles in jeopardy.N&O
But that report was not well-received. Some lawmakers, lobbyists, real-estate interests and others thought the report could disrupt valuable coastal real estate development and increase insurance costs, ABC News reported in 2012.
So they sought to undercut the scientists' work.
"After a wide-ranging debate on the validity of climate-change science Tuesday, state lawmakers agreed to ban any state agencies from making policies on sea-level change until 2016," John Frank wrote for The News & Observer in 2012.
“Republican lawmakers had sought to quash a March 2010 report from scientists with the Coastal Resources Commission that projected a 20-to-55-inch sea-level rise by the end of the century, disputing the science because it would hurt coastal development,” the News & Observer reported.
‘Sink or swim’
When the bill passed in June 2012, it became the butt of national jokes and the subject of widespread derision.
Stephen Colbert, in "The Word" segment of "The Colbert Report," said the North Carolina legislature's effort to undermine the sea-level report was equivalent to outlawing science.
"If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved," the comedian said. "Bravo North Carolina. By making this bold action on climate change today, you're insuring that when it actually comes, you'll have plenty of options, or at least two: Sink or swim."
House Bill 819 became a law without the signature of then-Gov. Bev Perdue on Aug. 3, 2012.
"North Carolina should not ignore science when making public policy decisions. House Bill 819 will become law because it allows local governments to use their own scientific studies to define rates of sea level change," Perdue wrote in a statement following the bill passing. "I urge the General Assembly to revisit this issue and develop an approach that gives state agencies the flexibility to take appropriate action in response to sea level change within the next four years."
The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Pat McElraft, who represents North Carolina's 13th District, including coastal Carteret and Jones counties.
McElraft is a former real-estate agent, and developers and the real-estate industry have contributed heavily to her campaigns. Among her top contributors have been the North Carolina Association of Realtors and the North Carolina Home Builders Association, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
McElraft first introduced the bill in the legislature in April 2011. The bill essentially banned the use of the 100-year sea-level-rise forecast by many of the agencies the state controls.
The bill initially aimed to "protect the property rights of homeowners" and had to do with how far back houses have to be built from the ocean.
McElraft and her supporters wanted to prevent the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources from denying developers or homeowners the ability to repair or rebuild valuable oceanfront homes because they were considered too close to the ocean by current standards.
The bill that passed ended up a “watered-down version of an initial proposal to put strict limits on the state’s use of climate-change data,” The News & Observer reported.
The law says the General Assembly does not intend to require the development of a policy on sea-level rise, which it called "sea-level change" or define rates of change "for regulatory purposes."
"No rule, policy, or planning guideline that defines a rate of sea-level change for regulatory purposes shall be adopted," the law says.
But the law also says "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit a county, municipality or other local government entity from defining rates" of sea-level rise.
Local government leaders are typically in charge of setting development policy.
New, limited study
The law instructed the coastal commission to issue a new report, with an outlook of 30 years instead of 100, that showed a lesser increase in sea levels over that time period.
The law required the commission that produced the original report to consider scientific literature debunking rising sea levels, even though the scientific community's consensus at the time was that sea levels were rising on the East Coast.
The law also required the commission to include the economic cost to the state if it began to limit development based on sea-level rise.
North Carolina’s bill passed at the same time the U.S. Geological Survey projected that rates of sea-level rise from Cape Hatteras to Boston were increasing as much as four-times faster than the U.S. average. The USGS called the region a “hotspot.”
Since the time the bill passed, new and more accurate science based on advancing technology has shown that sea levels are rising at a rate of about an inch per year (5 inches from 2011-15) in some areas of the East Coast, from North Carolina to Florida, according to one study -- faster than researchers expected, as previously reported by Abbie Bennett for The News & Observer.
And tidal flooding, or "sunny day flooding," the inundation of low-lying coastal areas during high tide, is worsening. Storms such as Hurricane Florence could result in worse tidal flooding that could be catastrophic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One study shows that sea-level rise flooding puts 2.5 million homes and businesses valued at $1 trillion at risk by the end of the century.
Another study using data from NOAA, the USGS, local governments and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which accounted for the Great Recession, showed that $7.4 billion in home values already has been lost across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Florida because of sea-level rise flooding from 2005 to 2017.
At the time the bill passed, McElraft said the commission would be required to "use some real science" in its new report and added that some scientists had debunked global warming.
“You can believe whatever you want about global warming, but when you go to make planning policies here for our residents and protecting their property values and insurance rates ... it’s a very serious thing to us on the coast,” McElraft said in 2012, according to The News & Observer.
And while McElraft called her bill at the time a "breather" to allow the state to "step back" and continue to study sea-level rise over coming years, no substantive legislation on sea-level rise has been discussed in the legislature since.
Democrat Rep. Deborah Ross, who represented the Raleigh area at the time, said "ignorance is not bliss, it's dangerous.
"By putting our heads in the sand, literally, for four years, we are not helping property owners. We are hurting them because we are not giving them information they may need to protect their property," Ross said in 2012.
Satellites and tide gauges have been used to report sea levels at regular intervals in North Carolina for years.
That data shows that the sea level has been gradually and consistently rising along the North Carolina coast for the past 30 years or more since those gauges were installed, according to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.
Republican Rep. John Blust, who represents the Greensboro area, “appeared indignant about being lectured on climate change,” the News & Observer reported.
"If you all don't agree with our point of view, somehow you're bad, somehow you're ignorant," Blust said. "There is a constant almost intimidation factor going on."
As sea levels continue to rise, the frequency, depth and extent of coastal flooding will continue to worsen, according to NOAA.
And that flooding will be even worse each time a tropical storm or hurricane approaches.
Some areas, including the Carolinas, could see worse flooding than others, and stand to lose much more.
Millions in property taxes that communities in North and South Carolina use to fund public safety, schools and more could be at risk if homes and businesses are constantly flooded, or even wiped off the map, by sea-level rise or worsening storm surge from tropical cyclones -- not to mention the people who could lose their homes or investment properties.
“For some communities, the potential hit to the local tax base could be staggering,” Kristy Dahl, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists previously told The News & Observer. “Some smaller, more rural communities may see 30, 50, or even 70 percent of their property tax revenue at risk due to the number of chronically inundated homes. Tax base erosion could create particular challenges for communities already struggling with high poverty rates.”
I found some small amusement in Ken Jacobus' letter on the Brett Kavanaugh appointment, simply because it so closely followed President Donald Trump's playbook. When he is planning some egregious action, he will almost always accuse the other side of already doing it. Thus, when his action becomes public, and the other side protests, the subject will be old news.
Kavanaugh was appointed specifically because he can be relied upon to "legislate from the bench" in support of Trump personally and of the political far right generally. The Trumpists (previously called Republicans) in the Senate will confirm Kavanaugh for just those reasons.
On the subject of Roe v. Wade, Kavanaugh has stated that this subject is "settled law." Such a statement from a well-educated lawyer is at best highly disingenuous and at worst genuinely dishonest. He knows perfectly well that law is "settled" only until the next challenge. Given the Trumpists' recent stacking of the lower courts with authoritarian ideologues, the upward path of the next challenge will be smooth. A court packed with right-wing justices could then reverse the Roe decision, even if there was no actual constitutional rationale for doing so. The opposition would then spend the next few decades fighting their way back up through the stacked lower courts to challenge the ruling. In the meantime, women will die.
Kavanaugh should not be confirmed to the court.
— Wayne Robinson
Originally published Jan. 10, 1988. Part of a series.
ALAKANUK -- In March 1985, a young man walked out onto the tundra behind this Yukon River village and carefully, neatly shot himself in the heart.
"I guess I've always looked for a reason to do it, " said the note near Louie Edmund's body. "And I found it."
The sound of the shot rolled across the flat delta land, through the supper time darkness of a cold spring day. It breached the walls and windows of the wooden houses, marking the moment as a beginning, for Louie Edmund began a 15month suicide epidemic that ended the lives of eight young villagers.
In a community of 550 people, eight suicides is the equivalent of more than 3,000 in Anchorage. It is an unimaginable tragedy.
In a community of 550, every name on the roll of the dead is someone you know: Louie Edmund, 22, Melvin Tony, 23, Steven Kameroff, 19, Jerry Augline 21, Karen George 17, Benjamin Edmund, 21, Timothy Stanislaus 25, Albert Harry, 29.
"I never went through this before, " said Louie's mother, Adeline Edmund, who lost two sons before it was over. "My whole body hurt. . . . I never did get mad at God (before) but I find myself getting mad at Him."
Alakanuk had known many unnatural deaths, yes. Too many. From violence and recklessness, on land and on the river. Most of the victims were drunk when they died. But none officially labeled suicide. Other villages had suicides but not traditional, Roman Catholic Alakanuk.
The village looked for a reason for Louie's death. He was exceptionally bright, an honor student when he graduated from high school in 1982. He had gone to college in Fairbanks and planned to go back. But there was another side to Louie, one shaped by a childhood of alcohol and violence.
"We were a team of abused children, " he wrote in his suicide note.
He was suspected of stealing. "I left a wave of uncaught crime in my past, " the note said. "The future is shit. I've been clashed into a rapidly changing culture. Tried my best to keep up, but we're losing and the past histories of Americans (is that) Natives have lost all. And it's happening again and I don't want to see it when them land claims (illegible) breaks us apart."
Was Louie involved in a store burglary the night before he died, as suspected? Was he afraid of arrest or jail? Or just depressed by the suspicion? There seemed to be "reasons" for Louie's suicide and people were prepared to accept it.
"Being the first one, it was an oddity, " said Sister Ann Brantmeier, a Catholic nun who has lived in the village for five years. "It was like, "I can't believe he did and I don't know why he did it, but that was Louie and it just happened.' "
Nothing happened for seven months. But a new idea had been born, a new door opened. On Oct. 2, Melvin Tony shoved the muzzle of a shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger. Melvin was a quiet, pleasant man who rarely drank, but he was blackout drunk when he died. His blood alcohol was .35, three and a half times the legal limit for driving. He had spent the day drinking himself into a despondent stupor over a broken love affair and a baby lost to abortion.
Suddenly the village that never had a suicide had two.
After Melvin, the deaths came fast. At one point, five in 14 weeks, and as many as 40 attempts, ranging from gestures that were clearly imitative cries for help, to one where a father found his son hanging but was able to cut him down in time.
Grief flooded the village. And fear. Alakanuk families are all related, by blood or marriage. Few were left unscarred. Three of the victims were first cousins.
"I never heard of anybody killing themselves before, except for those big movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, " said Valentina Black, a high school senior who lost two cousins and a close friend. "After Melvin killed himself, I thought maybe they were copying. . . . It sounded and looked so crazy, all those people killing themselves, sometimes for no reason at all."
"It had a life of its own, it seemed, " said Ralph Baldwin, a high school teacher.
Each death stretched out for weeks as the bodies were taken from the village to Anchorage for autopsies. Before the mourning for one was over, someone else was dead.
"Some parents were openly asking their children to stop this, right on (CB) channel 11, " said former Mayor Elizabeth Chikigak. "Like a plea."
Routine death, or what passes for routine death in rural Alaska, didn't stop during this time. Four people drowned, a young woman was raped and beaten to death, one died of illness, an unarmed 20yearold village police officer was murdered.
"We hated to hear the CB, " said Kitty Curren, who has taught in Alakanuk for 12 years with her husband, George. "We hated to hear a late plane. It meant an emergency. It meant death."
Then, in the summer of 1986, the suicides stopped. The epidemic was over and Alakanuk began to heal, slowly. But it was not the same village it had been. The people had learned things about themselves and their children, things they hadn't known before. This fall some villagers agreed to talk about their experiences.
"We have to try to help other villages, " said Mary Black, Valentina's mother.
PEOPLE KNOW THE ENEMY
Alakanuk is 15 miles from the Bering Sea, strung out for four miles along the banks of a Yukon River slough. People get from one end of town to the other by threewheeler, by boat or by walking along one of two rutted dirt roads. The villagers live mostly in the standard wooden Monopoly houses that dot the Bush, up on stilts here to protect them from flooding.
Twentieth century technology is the norm chain saws and outboard motors, stoves and freezers, CB, cable TV and a Laundromat. In addition to more than 50 paying jobs, many families fish commercially. But the men still hunt seal, standing in flatbottomed boats to hurl their spears. They hunt to put food on the table and to feel right subsistence is both a responsibility and a religion.
Because of its location so far down the Yukon, problems caused by the intrusion of Western culture came late to Alakanuk. But they did come. Ask the villagers to name the worst problem and they'll tell you:
Not just in Alakanuk, in many villages.
Ask why husbands beat their wives, why men are shot. Ask why women are raped and children hate their lives. Ask why love drowns in anger and guilt. The answer is always alcohol.
Alakanuk is officially dry no importation or sale of liquor is allowed. But the law has little relevance where the drink of choice is brewed from sugar and yeast in fivegallon plastic pails.
Alcohol shapes most of the death and all of the violence in Alakanuk. Sister Ann estimates that about 85 percent of the adults abuse alcohol or marijuana or both. Many individuals are sober, alcohol counselor Arthur Chikigak said, but he couldn't think of a single family where everyone is sober.
Johnson Katchakoar, 81, remembers that alcohol first came to Alakanuk in the 1950s, brought downriver by cannery workers and soldiers, a "traditional" feature at Fourth of July picnics.
"Remember how them Indians were in earlytime history, " said Mary Ayunerak, translating for Katchakoar, her father. "They take the whiskey, drink it like it was juice. That's how (the Yupiks) were . . . They drink it foolishly."
In the 30 years since, alcohol has laid waste to many villages. Elizabeth Chikigak, the former mayor, can list 38 alcoholfueled deaths in Alakanuk since the late 1970s. But the effect of alcohol is much more complicated than people getting drunk and falling in the slough. Or beating up their parents. Or killing their neighbors. It is destroying the family, once the strength of the Yupik people.
Alcohol loaded the gun or knotted the rope in only four of the Alakanuk suicides, but nearly all those who died came from drinking families.
"I REALLY HATE MYSELF'
Steven Kameroff, 19, was the third to die. He hanged himself in an empty dormitory at the boarding school in St. Marys. It happened Jan. 22, shortly after Steven returned from a Christmas visit home. At his inquest, a witness said he was upset by his family's drinking during the visit, although he had gotten drunk with them almost every night. He had been expelled for a while from the boarding school for using marijuana but had asked to be let back in. He had no drugs or alcohol in his system when he died.
While he was home, Steven said he was going to kill himself when he got back to school. But he was drunk when he said it, so the threat wasn't taken seriously.
Most people saw in Steven the nice boy he was, shy and self conscious. His friends at Alakanuk High dedicated their 1986 yearbook to him. "A fun loving, joyful person, " the dedication says.
Here, from the last entry in his private journal, written a week before he died, is how Steven saw himself:
"I really hate myself. I really wish I had a pistol right now so when I feel that feeling again, that funny feeling, that way I act and the way I am. I hate it. I wish I was a bird in the air and get eaten by my parents. The way I feel right now, I'm going to commit suicide for sure. I took one full bottle of aspirin. Then I took it again. Didn't succeed. Try again asshole. You're too chicken, Kameroff. Eat your heart out or take two boxes of pills this time, you scar face. . . . The way your life is going, you need help badly and quickly, before it's too late."
FROM FATHER TO SON
"Nobody suddenly commits suicide, " said Tim Sergie, once a drinker and village drug dealer, now a city council member and minister of the Assembly of God Church in Alakanuk.
"It is not spontaneous. No one gets to hate their life instantly. No one loves instantly. It's a growing process that we walk through day by day."
Sergie had just finished Sunday church services. Outside, low gray clouds dropped early snowflakes into the thickening river. Inside, he remembered his past.
"My mother and father used to drink a lot, " he said, "and I started drinking at a very young age too."
"The most awful experiences for me . . . would be my father beating on my mother. . . I used to say to myself, "I'll never be like my family, I'll never be like them.' And I became like them."
His parents eventually stopped drinking, but too late to save Sergie, now 34. He believes God is the only reason he survived his youth.
"It got to that point where I started hating my life. I wanted to quit (drinking) but I was incapable of quitting. . . . I became like my father. . . . I got to where I didn't love any more. I hated everybody. I hated what I stood for. I hated my life. I hated what alcohol was doing to me. I hated living. . . . And after one especially hard night, I almost committed suicide.
"I remember. I wasn't drunk to the point where I didn't know what I was doing."
"(T)hat particular night, when I was really high, we ran out of dope. We ran out of booze. I was dry and I wanted some more. And I was angry, and the first person who happened by was my wife . . . I hit her and I beat her and I threatened to kill her.
"And she said, "It's OK. Go ahead and kill me.' So I took a shotgun. I loaded the shotgun and I pointed it right on her head . . . And I said, "I'm going to kill her. And then I'm going to kill myself.' "
"And what she said "Go ahead. We don't have any life.' And I realized . . . there was no meaning to what we were doing . . . There was no happiness, no love for each other, no caring. It was just existing. . . . I took the gun off from her head and pointed it at my head and I was going to . . push the trigger."
"It's easy. It's easy. I've tried many times . . . after the incident, while I'm out hunting, just to see how stupid I was. I'd go like that, and the trigger's right there. I could see it. I could push it.
"And I said, "How did I not kill myself that night?' "
CRIES IN THE NIGHT
The fourth young man to die was Jerry Augline, two months after Steve Kameroff. Jerry was 21. He was big and would fight if he thought he had to, but he was also very shy. He made the cross for Louie Edmund's grave.
Jerry had lived for a while with Paula Ayunerak, then the village health aide, now regional health supervisor. "I practically raised him when his mom and dad used to be drinking, " she said. "Pretty soon, Jerry never went home any more." In high school he lived for a while with the Currens.
After he died, some people said they had heard Jerry sobbing that night, inside a dumpster. They found him the next day, by a pond out on the tundra, still alive. He died 10 minutes later. He had shot himself in the heart.
Jerry's blood alcohol was .08, not legally drunk, most likely left over from heavy drinking the night before. A friend told police Jerry had been drinking a lot lately and talking about killing himself because he thought his parents didn't want him around.
OUT OF CONTROL
"Sometimes I used to be scared, when I was young, 12 years old or 11, " said James Tony, brother of Melvin Tony, the second suicide victim. James and Melvin's parents don't drink anymore, but they used to. James is 21 now, but he remembers.
"I didn't like those years, on weekends, 'cause everything used to go out of control. If I have kids, I don't ever want them to see me high, not ever, not once in my life."
Scared. Out of control. He left out angry. And ashamed.
"Young people bottle up their pain, " said Arthur Chikigak, 30, the alcohol and drug counselor. They drink, like their parents, "to kill the pain that's inside. . . . probably from their past, the abuse they had from their parents."
"A lot of the hurt they're going through, I feel it because I felt it too. . . . I grew up in an alcoholic environment. My parents drank a lot by the time I was in elementary. . . . When they were high and talking bad about me, I'd leave and walk in the trees. . . . The hurt would still be there, but it would make me feel a little better, just walking."
Once Chikigak drank and used drugs himself. Once he took his boat out on the river and tried to flip it, a suicide attempt that probably would have been called an accident if it had succeeded.
"I had been hollered and screamed at 'til I felt really small."
"I didn't go around telling people how I felt inside." he said. "I'd put up an act, like there's nothing wrong. I think a lot of the students are like that today. We're trying to reach them now. There's a lot of people who are willing to devote their time to help."
THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST
"Hey! Happy 1986, " Karen George wrote to a friend on New Year's Day. "My year has finally come."
Queen of the prom, president of the student body, valedictorian of the class of '86. Pretty, selfconfident and popular. Karen at 17 was Alakanuk's brightest star.
By May 1986, seven months after Melvin Tony's death, some people in the village understood they had a suicide epidemic on their hands. Sisters Susan Dubec and Ann Brantmeier; Paula Ayunerak; public safety officer Willie Smalley; some school staff and parents were watching for danger signs. But Karen George wasn't on anyone's endangered list. Drugs and alcohol were used in her home and she had what one teacher called "a small alcohol problem, " but she was successful, a leader.
Karen's father had drowned several years earlier, another drinking death. In her valedictory address, she choked up when she spoke of him, telling the audience how proud her dad would be if only he could see her now.
Two days later, shortly after midnight, Karen walked out on the tundra behind her house and shot herself. Twice. She used a stick to push down the trigger of a shotgun. She shot herself in the shoulder first, then tried again and shattered her heart.
Because of the two wounds, police initially wondered if it might have been murder, but Karen's mother was able to settle the question. She heard the first shot, she said, and looked out a window in time to see her daughter fire the second.
Karen killed herself over boyfriend trouble. She acted impulsively and with little understanding of the finality of her act. The notes she left behind make that clear. Romantic, silly notes. Teenage dramatics. "Bye everyone. . . . I miss you a whole lot. . . . But I've got to go."
Unfortunately every suicide leaves blame and shame in its wake. Karen's boyfriend was Benjamin Edmund, 21, brother of Louie Edmund, the first suicide.
Everyone knew Benji was going to kill himself. Some people tried to get him shipped out to a hospital in Bethel or Anchorage, but somehow they couldn't arrange it in time. His family and friends posted a 24hour watch on him, but he told them, "If I want to kill myself, no one can stop me."
He was right. Five days after Karen died, he slipped away and shot himself.
Now every parent was frightened. If kids like Karen and Benji could act so crazy, whose children were safe?
"It was scary, " recalled Chikigak, the alcohol counselor. "You never knew who was going to be next. It was frightening, a feeling of not being able to do anything about what was going on in the village."
After Karen's death, one of her teachers said she had made no real plans for her life after school. Maybe she would go to a training program, she had said, maybe not. Maybe she would get married and have a baby, a friend said.
But maybe she would become just another bored and aimless village youth.
AN EARLY WARNING
In a 1964 article, anthropologist Seymour Parker described an Alakanuk in the first stage of acculturation. Villagers were borrowing Western technology but adapting it to Eskimo needs. Children wanted to become hunters or housewives. They could be what they wanted to be and were respected for doing so. They were successful in the eyes of the community and in their own eyes. They had selfesteem.
But, unless something was done to avoid it, Parker warned, Alakanuk would soon find itself in the second stage of acculturation. The youth would begin to adopt Western values. They would look at themselves, at their parents and their lives through Western eyes and find it all of little value. They would aspire to professions Westerners valued, but wouldn't be able to compete successfully for them. They would come to despise themselves and their world. They would have no selfesteem.
Village kids love their parents, said Kitty and George Curren, the teachers. "But they don't admire them."
FEW JOBS, LITTLE TO DO
"There's nothing to do but only drinking, " said James Tony, brother of the second victim. "They think drinking will make them have fun." James used to drink and smoke marijuana, but says he doesn't do it anymore. "Everybody's emotional feelings would pour out, " he said. "Some people would get into fights."
After kids graduate from high school, there's not much for them to do in the village. James is luckier than most. He has a parttime job giving fluoride treatments to Head Start children. But in general, few local jobs are available to people his age. He helps cut wood for his father's sauna and is trying to organize a youth club, but in his eyes, that's not a life.
There are also few ways for kids to have fun in Alakanuk no community center, no place for dances or concerts, no bowling alley, movie theater, hamburger hangout, no library. But there's always a bucket of home brew around, to dip a cup or two or six from.
James has plans for his life, but to have plans, he must leave Alakanuk. In preparation, he has been to Mountain Village four times for computer courses, to Anchorage for a vocational program called RSVP, working for two weeks as a clerk at the state human rights commission. A bright, ambitious young man, he feels he has learned a lot that will serve him in the future.
"I learned how to use the streets, how to use the bus to get on and off, how to ask for help. I learned how to use a postage meter."
Like many others his age, James wants a future more like the life he sees on television. He wants to move to Anchorage and get a job.
"I would do anything to live there, " he said.
NEW SURVIVAL SKILLS
Alakanuk High School sits above the beach, around a curve in the shoreline a big, yellow Pandora's Box. Yupik children go there and learn things their parents don't know in a language their grandparents don't speak.
"We're the major change element here, " said Principal Mike Hull, a 10year veteran of Bush education. "From 8:30 to 3:30, we are the value system. We set the standards for whether they succeed or fail, which may be different and not always in harmony with what's going on in the village."
The school raises expectations, then sets the children back down in an environment where their hopes cannot be fulfilled. "We're part of the problem, " Hull agreed.
Even so, he believes school is the Eskimos' best hope for survival. Yupiks must master the skills of the invading culture, he said, then turn around and use those skills to fight the invaders, to keep from being destroyed.
"For the Yupik nation to survive, it has to become Anglo so it can defend itself . . . defend its right to live the way it wants. . . . They have to take our culture and come back."
In the process, "some people are going to be lost."
Longtime teachers George and Kitty Curren agree with Hull. Two of the suicide victims sought refuge in their home, lived with them for long periods. Four of their five children married Eskimos.
Nothing angers George faster than a suggestion that Eskimo villages are economic dinosaurs, doomed to extinction. A town of 550 people can support any number of small businesses, he said. A barber, a bakery, an optometrist. A family can combine a small business with subsistence hunting and fishing and make a good life.
The school prepares kids for more education. Never mind that few actually go to college and fewer graduate. The school does no vocational training or counseling, nothing to help kids make successful lives in the world right outside the door.
"You tell kids to graduate from high school. Then they graduate and so what? I think the poor kids are batting their heads against the wall. Is that the only choice? To sit in your house and drink and watch TV?"
The Currens teach a business course in which high school students run a snack store every day after school. They learn to order stock, keep books, make change. George hopes one day to help graduates set up successful village businesses.
SOBER AND LONELY
On June 25, 1986, the night he hanged himself, Tim Stanislaus wore a Tshirt that said, "I got drunk and lost in Alakanuk, Alaska." Which was just about right. His blood alcohol was .23.
Tim's death puzzled people even more than Karen George's. He was so very bright, a success, the Yupik teacher at the high school. But those who knew him well say he was two people: During the week, an impressive achiever, but on weekends and during the summer, a staggering drunk and drug user. He wanted to be a leader and sober, but he needed his friends, and they drank.
"He couldn't walk that line, " George Curren said.
Walking the line means staying sober and off drugs when your friends are drinking and smoking. Fredrick Joseph walks that line every day. He is part of a budding sobriety movement, encouraged by the Catholic sisters, by Paula Ayunerak, by Chikigak, the alcohol counselor, and others.
Joseph was a heavy drinker by the sixth grade. By ninth grade he was also smoking marijuana. Once he stayed sober for more than a year, then fell off the wagon, hard. "I guess I got crazy. I started not caring about anything. . . . My girl couldn't talk to me anymore, couldn't communicate with me anymore and I couldn't understand why. And it led to hitting her, slapping her. And . . . I broke her arm by kicking her. And then I tried suicide."
Joseph ended up at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute for a month. "I was too depressed, lonely, unwanted, not cared for. . . . I went through emotional stages, regretting everything I did." He returned to Alakanuk sober and determined to remain so.
The hardest thing about sobriety, Joseph said, is the aloneness of it. His old friends still drink. His girlfriend won't come back to the village with their two daughters until she is sure he is serious about staying sober, so he is alone. Each night he walks the village, counting the hours and killing them, visiting safe places the priest, the alcohol counselor, the police station, the Sisters.
"I try to find a job. I read the 24hour book (from Alcoholics Anonymous). I read some chapters of the Bible. . . . I feel a lot better than I used to feel. I think a lot more than I used to think."
Across the river, Sally and James Leopold have been sober for a year. It's a little easier for them because they walk the line together with the help of their children. Their home is clean and tidy, the atmosphere relaxed. Outside, a cold sleet blows in the wind. Inside, Sally washes dishes. On the radio, Willie Nelson sings, "San Antonio Rose."
Even in a story about eight suicides, Sally Leopold's family history is horrifying. One of her brothers beat up their father, who died. The brother went to jail. Another brother killed a village police officer. Her sister and mother drowned in separate incidents while drunk. Another sister was killed in one of the bloodiest murders in lower Yukon history. One of Sally's babies accidentally suffocated during a family drinking session.
Still, Sally and James didn't stop drinking until she almost died from an ulcer.
The Leopolds have eight children, from a little baby to a 19yearold boy. The older ones have vivid memories of their parents' drinking. Cecelia Leopold, 13, said she used to get scared when Sally and James would "fight, argue with each other. Loud. We used to go to our auntie's house. Sometimes we used to stay out until they sleep, then come."
"I hardly used to cook for them, " said Sally. "I never used to think of their stomach or clothes. . . . When we used to drink, they hardly used to come home from the school. Now that we quit, they listen to us more than they used to.
"Sometimes I think of the past, you know. It was living in the darkness. Now everything is so bright, it seems."
But not all is bright. In November, one of Sally's sons was charged with raping an old woman his aunt. For a few days after that, alcohol beckoned the Leopolds back to oblivion, but they clung to the light.
BREAKING THE PATTERN
"It's one thing to stop drinking, " said Sister Susan. "You stop drinking, the problems are still there. The parenting skills are gone, children still have a poor selfconcept. . . . Just like it took one or two or three generations to get to suicide and the problems we have now, it's going to take one or two or three generations to get out of the problem again." Fifty years, she estimated.
Maybe it doesn't have to take that long for everyone. Tina Black, 17, is one generation away from an alcoholic grandfather. "He got drowned, maybe by drinking, when he was in his camp, " said Tina's grandmother, Agnes Shelton. "One of my boys was drowned with him. It was very hard for me."
Shelton was a nondrinker who preached abstinence to her children and chose a nondrinker for her second husband. But for a while it looked like the familiar pattern would assert itself anyhow. Her daughter and soninlaw, Tina's parents, drank. Twelve years ago, Tina's mother, Mary Black, stopped drinking and Tina's father eventually stopped drinking in the village. In this family, the destructive cycle seems to have been broken.
Tina is a top student at the high school and president of the student body. She seems a sensible girl, having the usual teenage rough spots with her mother but close to her father. She drinks occasionally at parties, she said, but never in killthebottle bouts. She seems undaunted by the high school stars of yesteryear who are in the village, doing nothing much.
"Sometimes I think it's stupid, " she said. "They're just hanging in town. They can be anything they want. . . . I don't want to hang in the village, doing the things they do, partying."
THE END AT LAST
While Tim Stanislaus was hanging himself in Alakanuk, Albert Harry, an Alakanuk fisherman who spent his winters in Anchorage, was dying in a bed at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
About 2:45 a.m. on June 24, Albert went into the bathroom of his Anchorage apartment, sat down on the floor with his back against the closed bathroom door, and fired a revolver into his right temple. Three people, including his brother, were in the next room. He lingered for a day before he died.
A few weeks earlier, Albert had called his brother back in the village and said he was going to kill himself. Through the phone, his brother heard the mechanism of a gun. The night he died, Albert had been drinking heavily, vodka and beer. He left no note. One of the men in the next room was so drunk he slept through the suicide.
With Albert's death, the epidemic ended.
In the early morning the village is silent except for the crunch of feet now and then along the frosted paths. The air feels good cold and wet against the skin. More snow has fallen, but the river is still liquid, not yet an ice highway. Early risers smile, say hello. If something bad happened last night, it remains behind closed doors. If people are troubled, the trouble is hidden away. The village is silent.
But silence is an enemy. People don't talk to each other about their feelings and have little understanding that they can reach out and shape the future.
"They never talk to us, those young people, when they have problems, " said Agnes Shelton, the grandmother who has never been a drinker. "It's too bad. I just don't know how come they do that . . . Their minds get them scared to be alive sometimes after they do something wrong . . . Some always never have a good home. . . . Some always getting tired of moving around when the parents drink too much."
When people get drunk, "a lot of words pour out, " James Tony said, hurtful words. Guilt and shame are part of every hangover. Silent hurt radiates from those who have been abused.
Even healthy teenagers in healthy families have trouble talking. "It's hard to tell your parents that you love them, " Tina Black said, "to tell your grandparents that you love them. I don't know why."
Chikigak, the alcohol counselor, Sisters Susan and Ann, John Thomas, who runs the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and others are trying to get people to talk. Progress is slow, but it's there. Two years after Louie Edmund's death, members of the Edmund family have begun talking to each other about it. Last month, 15 young people showed up for an overnight retreat.
Adults in the village did not immediately rally around suicide prevention efforts. Few appeared at a suicide prevention workshop last year. Many people in Alakanuk seem to view violence and early death the way they view bad weather and poor fishing as natural disasters. As for shaping the future, how can you stop a snowstorm? "We'll just have to wait and see what happens, won't we?" one woman said.
"I QUESTION WHY'
It's late, nearly midnight. Adeline Edmund has stopped at the Sisters' house on her way home from work at the village sauna. She is a small middleaged woman with short black hair laced with silver. Sorrow animates her face. Her silence is intense. She has heard that a newspaper story will be written about the suicides. She lost two sons and has some things she wants to share.
"Some days . . . I question why, why could they, after they care so much for us. . . . There's some days it's really hard. You can't take it any more. . . . Some days it's really strong that I don't want to live no more. Then God comes."
"Write it down, " she says, for other villages to read and learn from. Stop all the hurting in the home, she says. "Stop all the blaming. Try not to get mad even when they get mad at you. . . . Love is the most important. If you're not loved . . ."
"THEY WANT TO BE LOVED'
Will there be more suicides in Alakanuk? Probably, say the people most likely to know. But not another epidemic. "I don't think our village is at a trigger point anymore, " said Sister Ann, "that if one happens, there's going to be five. I think we're past that."
"I think (the young people) see that the suicides didn't accomplish what they thought they would. Yeah, there was that glory of everybody over the bodies, but I think that's not there anymore."
Still, an empty space remains in the hearts of the young, said Sergie, the Assembly of God pastor. "They want to be loved. They want to be shared with. They want caring. . . . And if they can't find pleasure, love and caring in any direction, well, what's the use of living?"
"When I stayed with one who was going to commit suicide, " said James Tony, "I had to keep saying, "Come on, everybody loves you. They don't act like it, but in their hearts they love you.'
"They say, "Aaaagh, who loves me? Nobody loves me.'
"I say, "Well, I do.' "
I agree with the observations of my good friend John Havelock about the appropriateness of cabinet members and other high officials traveling first class. These people are working when they travel. By the way, if someone were doing work for me, I would not want them doing it in coach. I would want first class work, not coach class work.
Secondly, there is always the possibility of violence or theft of government materials. I would provide private jets for all senior level officials, judges and members of Congress. This will protect the aforesaid categories from inappropriate physical contact by the more unsavory members of the public. This will also protect the public from abuse by the more unsavory members of the Congress, the executive and the judiciary of the United States.
— Grant W. Hunter
Originally published Jan. 10, 1988.
Something is stalking the village people.
Across the state, the Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts of Bush Alaska are dying in astonishing numbers. By suicide, accident and other untimely, violent means, death is stealing the heart of a generation and painting the survivors with despair.
A growing sense of helplessness simmers in alcohol throughout the Bush. Among a growing percentage of Alaska Natives, life has become equal parts violence, disintegration and despair. An epidemic of suicide, murder and selfdestruction threatens to overwhelm cultures that have for centuries survived and prospered in the harshest environments on earth.
Says 79yearold Indian elder Walter Charley: “We’re like a drowning man.”
The village of Alakanuk lived on the razor's edge: a town of 550 with eight suicides, dozens of attempts, two murders and four drownings in 16 months. This was Eskimo Armageddon.
But while Alakanuk's experience has been the worst, it is by no means an isolated example. The pace of suicide, selfdestruction and abuse is accelerating all over Alaska. There are echoes everywhere:
* At Wainwright, where four young people died in September 1986 after drinking methanol from a barrel that washed up on the beach. The dead were aged 16, 17, 21 and 33.
* In Quinhagak, where 11 teenagers were hospitalized and one died in April 1987 from drinking copier fluid stolen from the village school. Officials reported that a 19yearold "never woke up" from the party.
* In Hooper Bay, where a 16yearold boy killed himself playing Russian roulette last July. In the aftermath, his girlfriend shot herself through the mouth and was permanently damaged, and two other young women shot themselves and survived.
* And in grief, like that of drunken parents from Birch Creek who left a drinking session in Fort Yukon with their 2yearold in the boat and discovered only after getting home that the baby had been abandoned on a sand bar or lost overboard.
Numbers scarcely begin to sketch the bounds of misery, but the numbers themselves are awful. Where 10 young white men would kill themselves, 100 young Natives will. There is roughly a onein10 chance that a 15yearold Native boy will kill himself or make a serious attempt to do so before he is 25.
Sloppy recordkeeping and a sense of shame lead to vast under recording of Native suicides; for years, they combined to mask the terrible scope of the problem. When state officials discovered the mistakes and began to doublecheck, reported numbers of Native suicide increased by as much as 73 percent for a single year, and the full dimension of the tragedy began to emerge.
Among men aged 20 to 24, the national suicide rate is 25.6 per 100,000. The best calculations available show that among white men in Alaska it is 44 per 100,000. For Native men in the age group, it is 257 per 100,000.
Native women also kill themselves much more often than nonNatives. Even more tragically, they poison their unborn children. The rate of "fetal alcohol syndrome" a range of birth defects caused by the mother's drinking is twoanda half times the national average and more than twice the rate among other Indian populations.
More than four of every thousand Native babies are born with a life sentence: retardation, damaged organs, a shrunken head, learning disabilities, hyperactivity.
All of alcohol's misery is present in abundance among the village people. Where generations might once have passed without assault or abuse, families now face daily torment.
"There is no serious crime without alcohol, " says Alaska State Trooper George Dahl in Bethel. But there is almost no village without alcohol and none that escapes the growing epidemic of misery.
Although Natives represent just 16 percent of Alaska's population and live mostly beyond the bounds of intensive law enforcement, they account for 34 percent of prison inmates. A Bethel grand jury's special report in 1986 found child sexual assault in epidemic proportions.
Although their cultures traditionally have reared children in a privileged cocoon of affection and care, neglect now characterizes childhood for a growing number.
An alcohol counselor from Nome told this story to a legislative committee investigating local option alcohol laws:
"I went into a community . . . I'm not sure if the alcohol came in on the plane that I was on or if it came in on another plane that day. There were two sober adults for the entire week that I was in that particular village. That was myself and (a teacher). . . .
"From watching the kids from day one to day five, it was just incredible. . . . The children were from kindergarten up to about seventh grade. There were maybe nine or 11 children, total, in that school.
"By the end of the second day, two of the children had started bedwetting, and their clothes were not changed through the entire week I was there. . . . On day three, they started falling asleep in the classroom, and the teacher just let them because they were up during the night.
"It was either the last day or that Thursday that one of the parents came into the school. . . . The parent came in and it was immediate: All 11 kids went into different kinds of behavior. About three of them stood up (put their hands over their ears, and started rhythmically rocking back and forth) . . . two of them hid under tables and chairs. . . ."
Among the dead, those officially labeled "suicide" represent only a small proportion of the epidemic. "Accidental deaths" account for far more destruction. They also bespeak a carelessness for life born of deep despair.
It is not truly an accident when a drunken Eskimo freezes to death within sight of his home.
It is not truly an accident when a drunken man drives his snowmachine into a pair of strolling women.
It is not truly an accident when a drunken fisherman falls out of his boat and drowns in the icy ocean.
Dogeared copies of a heartfelt plea about the problem are making their way through the villages. The photocopied statement was found tacked to the laundry door at Alakanuk:
"When someone dies in our villages, we say: "It was their time to go. We could not stop it.' On the other hand, some people say that a great number of deaths in our village are related to alcohol and drug abuse. Knowing this, we still say, "It was their time to go, we could not stop it.'
"We have begun believing that it is natural to die an alcoholrelated death. In our minds, it has become as natural as a heart attack, a stroke or dying of old age. We have believed our own lies and excuses that drinking is a natural cause of death.
"To stagger, to fall out of a boat and drown is not natural. To pass out in the snow and freeze is not natural. To fight, to knock over a lamp and burn in a fire is not natural. To abuse and hurt our loved ones is not natural. . . .
"An alcoholrelated death is not a natural way to die."
CAUSE OR EFFECT?
But is alcohol the disease or the anesthetic applied to numb a deeper malady? While it is the constant factor in all the pain in Bush Alaska, booze is hardly the only ingredient.
To say that having your culture invaded and engulfed creates despair is selfevident, but it is no less true for its obviousness. The constant assault of Western institutions, Western diseases and Western economies is destroying the fabric of Native life.
Western traders arrived first to exploit the bartering economies of Native people and were shortly followed by missionaries who forcefully stripped away the supporting foundations of spirituality. Preachers and teachers washed out childrens' mouths with soap when they spoke in Native language or talked about Native beliefs. Smallpox and tuberculosis ravaged adults already assaulted by change.
Those people today's grandparents were a generation overwhelmed.
Then the government took their children, sending many to "Indian school" thousands of miles away. These returned with elevated aspirations, diminished prospects for advancement and little experience in successful family living. They turned away from elders and toward alcohol.
Today's parents became a generation adrift.
Back in a village economy now tuned ever more completely to the need for cash electric bills, snowmachines and fuel oil cash became harder to get. But television and easier communications create an appetite among youngsters who don't fit in the engulfing Western culture or have a firm heritage to fall back on.
Today's young people are a generation at risk.
"Our culture has been destroyed, " says Doug Modig, a Tsimshian Indian who runs an alcohol program. "We're fighting for our lives."
Culture is not an item an artifact to be lost or pawned, or a memory that might be forgotten like the words to an old, no longer popular song. It is the anchor that holds each individual to his or her place in a vast and otherwise uncaring universe. When the culture is gone, the individual stands facetoface with apocalypse.
At the core of that culture, whether adapted to the Eskimo, Indian or Aleut ways, is what has come to be called "subsistence lifestyle." In traditional Native cultures, it was not a lifestyle, but a life. Hunting, fishing and gathering were the economy, the industry and the religion.
"I've been watching the villages since I left. They got TV. The men are not what they were, " said Thekla Hootch, who left her childhood home in Emmonak for life in Anchorage.
"Men had dog teams, they'd go out in the morning. Everybody helped each other. My grandfather would go hunt ducks and seals.
"They don't do that anymore. They're on welfare, food stamps. There's snowmachines. Even though they do share, it's not like it used to be."
Native men have been devalued by the changes in their culture. Economist George Rogers of Juneau recalls that even when he arrived in Alaska in 1945, a study was being done on male Native status.
"There was a shift. Suddenly, a male Native was no longer a key person in the survival of his family. A young mother with kids got (welfare) payments, older people with Social Security brought in a tremendous amount of cash. The male was sort of cast adrift . . .
"In Barrow, the young men are not interested (in community college courses). Women are eager to learn. They are going to be the future breadwinners, too. This has had a devastating effect, particularly among males."
Women with more employable skills migrate to towns and cities. With fewer eligible mates among them, village men suffer even worse.
"When we lose our women, we lose our Native blood, and when we lose our Native blood, we lose our heart. And we drink, " said a young Yupik man.
With loss of their cultural anchor, many of Alaska's Native people have chosen simply to opt out. Suicide is quick from the barrel of a shotgun, slower from the neck of a plastic whiskey bottle. It is slowest of all in the lingering misery of unconnected life at the edges of existence.
"Life doesn't mean what it used to in the old days, " Aleut Agafon Krukoff says simply.
"Some young guys from Bethel were sitting around talking, " said Martha Upicksoun, an Inupiat woman who lives in Anchorage. "There was this discussion about people who have died. It was just like a war, only where the people who have died were victims of suicide or violence. These guys sitting around talking about them are saying, "Well, we made it, ' and these guys aren't even 30 years old.
"I mean, it isn't Beirut or Vietnam, but it's a battlefield for them. That's how they think of life, and for some of them, it's normal."
THE SUICIDE OPTION
The extraordinary has become ordinary in this generation.
Youngsters and expert psychiatrists agree that suicide has become a standard option for many in Bush Alaska. In Alakanuk, students' reasoning turned easily to selfdestruction "I can drop out of school, I can go away, I can kill myself" said high school teacher Ralph Baldwin.
The life they choose to depart makes their choice more understandable. The 15yearold who today stands at greatest statistical risk is caught in the suffocating grip of forces far beyond any individual's ability to handle.
Probably he lives in an isolated village of about 300. His parents were torn from home at 13; their parenting skills were never well developed.
His village elders, the centerpiece of most Native cultures, were themselves overwhelmed by white assault: traders, missionaries, fuel oil salesmen. They struggle now with representatives of cultural change their ancestors never faced: television repairmen and bill collectors and a village bootlegger resupplied by air.
There may be a lot of what some villagers call "closet sobriety" in his home town, but chances are that most of the men in the village drink alcoholically at least some of the time. Binge drinking begins when a shipment arrives and ends only when the last bottle is gone. Beatings, abuse and accidents are commonplace. Death is not unusual.
A legislative committee took testimony across the state.
From Minto, population 153:
"Elders in Minto are afraid to go to bed at night when they know people in the village have been drinking. The fear comes from the knowledge that the elders would be unable to defend themselves if a drunk came into their house during the night. The elders have medical problems caused by fear and depression arising out of the drinking problems of others.
"When there is a lot of alcohol in the village, children go to school tired, fall asleep during class and cannot pay attention. Children of drinkers go to school with dirty clothes, get more colds than other children and do not eat properly. These children appear to be nervous, depressed and lonely. Pregnant mothers hurt their unborn children through fetal alcohol syndrome."
From Selawik, population 545:
"Of the 82 people brought before the magistrate in 1985, all had been drinking at the time of committing the offense with which they were charged."
From Toksook Bay, population 333:
"Alcohol can interrupt critically important subsistence activities. For example, last year two people were shot and wounded in an alcoholrelated incident during the time when everyone in the village was at spring fish camp. The families of those wounded had to leave fish camp before they had finished getting the necessary amount of fish."
From Shishmaref, population 393:
"Within families, alcohol precipitates incidents of domestic violence and family crisis. The use and abuse of alcohol is threatening the structure of the extended family. Children and grandchildren are either excluded or exclude themselves from extended family activities in an effort to be protected from alcohol abusers."
It is a grim tale, but an undeniable one. Within the heart of the ancient cultures at risk, a tentative, first response to the terrible reality is beginning to stir.
A growing sobriety movement unites activists from across the state in a new campaign against alcohol, the deadly catalyst for so much Native death and suffering. Individual accountability and community unity are the touchstones of the movement that draws from traditional Indian spiritualism, contemporary selfhelp and Alcoholics Anonymous for its prescription.
Over the next eight days, detailed reports in The Daily News will chart the depths of death and despair among Alaska Natives and look at the emerging lights of hope on the horizon.
This enhanced satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 at 5:52 p.m. EDT. (NOAA via AP)
WILMINGTON, N.C. — The outer bands of wind and rain from a weakened but still lethal Hurricane Florence began lashing North Carolina on Thursday as the monster storm moved in for a prolonged and potentially catastrophic stay along the Southeast coast that could drench the homes of as many as 10 million people.
Florence’s winds had dropped from a peak of 140 mph to 105 mph by midmorning, reducing the hurricane from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2. But forecasters warned that the widening storm — and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day — will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours.
"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. "The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that."
As of 11 a.m. EDT, Florence was centered about 145 miles southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 10 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles.
Forecasters said Florence’s eye could come ashore early Friday around the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Then it is likely to hover along the coast Saturday, pushing up to 13 feet of storm surge and unloading water on both states.
Korea war veteran, Ed Coddington, 83, second from right, and wife Esther, 78, wait with Markia McCleod, rear, her aunt Ernestine McCleod and daughter Keymoni, 4, in a shelter for Hurricane Florence to pass after evacuating from their nearby homes in Conway, S.C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)
By midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington. On North Carolina’s Outer Banks, water flowed through the streets of Hatteras Village, and some of the few people still left in Nags Head took photos of angry waves topped with white froth.
The forecast calls for as much as 40 inches of rain over seven days along the coast, with the deluge continuing even as the center of the storm pushes its way over the Appalachian Mountains.
The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites.
The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's bulls'-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.
"I'm not going to put our personnel in harm's way, especially for people that we've already told to evacuate," Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to remain alert despite changing forecasts.
"Don't relax, don't get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality," he said.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.
Ocean water breeches to the dunes in Avon, N.C., as the first effects of Hurricane Florence reach Hatteras Island on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP) (Steve Earley/)
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 mph, but that’s still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind does.
Scientists said it is too soon to say what role, if any, global warming played in the storm. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change.
It's unclear exactly how many people fled ahead of the storm, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe's activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.
Duke Energy, the nation's No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.
Florence's weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who worried that the storm could still be deadly.
Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that has since been downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a hotel in Wilmington several miles inland.
"Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated," he said. "I've got four cats inside the house. If I can't get back in a week, after awhile they might turn on each other or trash the place."
Jeffrey Collins reported from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hampton, Georgia; David Koeing in Dallas; Gerry Broome at Nags Head, North Carolina; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.
How Alaska Eats: Freeze late summer-green super pesto, make a proper Alaska berry pudding and other food news
Late summer garden greens from my cousin Tanya’s garden. (Photo by: Julia O’Malley/ADN)
I have been waking up at 6 a.m. to the sound of geese making practice flights. There's yellow creeping into the birch leaves in the yard. The greens in the garden are cartoonishly overgrown. It's late summer, our greenest season. And it gets a person thinking about topping off the freezer.
Especially, if your chard or kale is 2 feet tall, you might give some thought to this week's Alaskana recipe for super adaptable, super nutritious, super pesto, which can be made all year with Alaska herbs and greens (including fiddleheads, nettles, dandelion and wild subsistence greens). The recipe is built like Alaskans cook, with lots of substitutions for whatever you've got on hand. Make a double batch and throw half in the freezer. You'll be so psyched in November.
You can make this pesto with whatever herbs and greens might be overtaking your garden right now. Freeze for a burst of green in the winter. (Photo by: Julia O’Malley/ADN)
If you're not growing greens, now is the time to buy them along with carrots, potatoes, beets and herbs. Our market columnist Steve Edwards reports farmers markets right now are "a landslide of everything." Aside from making pesto, I like to take herbs like basil and tarragon, give them a quick pulse in the food processor, freeze them with water or olive oil in ice cube trays and then use them to brighten my winter sauces.
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We're also still at the apex of berry season. Kim Suneé has a jewel-toned recipe for a British-style berry pudding that I'm pretty sure I'm going to make with challah bread from Fire Island Bakery and serve with a big ol' dollop of whipped cream.
Triple berry pudding (Photo by Kim Sunée)
And, as I slow my roll into the calmer schedule that comes in the fall, I'm looking to do some backyard fire pit time. Next time I do, I might bring a hot bowl of Maya Wilson's easy garlic edamame and wash them down with a nice local brew.
[Find more recipes and food news in the ADN Food and Drink section]
Garlic edamame (Maya Wilson / Alaska from Scratch)
Industrious cooks are busy testing wild game recipes and novel Spam recipes right now in the Alaskana Recipe Facebook Test Kitchen. You're welcome to join them. I'm also looking for advice on moose chili and wild game meatballs. Email me about that or anything else you're thinking, Alaska food-wise?
Here's hoping you get a taste of grilled coho on a sunny evening. Thanks for reading.