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Updated: 2 hours 39 min ago

Quest is over, Iditarod is approaching, and PETA is back to protest

Sun, 2019-02-17 09:53

Richard “Ziggy” Zeigler hands out flyers for the Alaska Fur Gallery in front of the PETA protest against the Iditarod at the start line of last year's race. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archives) (Bob Hallinen/)

The Yukon Quest is over. Congratulations to Brent Sass for not just being the first team to Fairbanks, but for getting all 14 of his dogs to the finish line.

This year marked the third time in Quest history that the winning musher finished with his entire team. (I did it in 1992 with 12 dogs, and Allen Moore did it in 2018 with 14).

Teams opted for more rest than has been the habit during the past decade. In both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, there has been a slowly developing trend toward giving dogs a bit more rest in an effort to keep the team speed up.

This is a fine balance, but the results are showing promise. Hans Gatt, who finished second in the Quest, put on a how-to clinic on racing a 1,000-mile event (although this year’s trail was about 80 miles shorter than usual due to poor trail conditions on the Canadian side of the border).

Gatt used a judicious combination of rest, speed and dog drops to complete his Quest. He moved his eight-dog team on the final leg almost 40 minutes faster than Sass and a couple of hours quicker than Moore, who finished third. This model may become the basis for future Yukon Quests and Iditarod races.

The finish of the Quest finds Iditarod teams readying for the March 2 ceremonial start. At the same time, the Iditarod is looking for a new CEO since Stan Hooley left in December to take a job Outside. Chas St. George is acting as interim CEO and his long association with the race should provide a seamless transition.

Fewer teams are entered in the Iditarod this year, which will make the race logistically easier than past years. There is little doubt that racers will get better service at checkpoints with smaller crowds of mushers.

Some mushers opted out of this years’ event to show their distaste for several of the new rules instituted by the race. Public revelations of neglect at several prominent kennels may also have contributed to some kennels “wait and see what happens” attitude.

PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) is back to oppose the Iditarod with an advertising campaign on People Mover buses in Anchorage.

PETA, whose mission statement is “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment with, or use for entertainment,” is the largest animal rights organization in the world, although the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a larger following in the U.S.

HSUS is a softer-speaking version of PETA. It is not affiliated with local Humane Societies and shelters, and it has a different agenda than local shelters. There is little deviation between HSUS and PETA. A good comparison is the difference between a burglar and a con man: They are both out to get you.

PETA states, “Animals are not ours to eat” and “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” HSUS, at its 1980 national membership conference, said “there is no rational basis for maintaining a moral distinction between the treatment of humans and other animals.” They haven’t watered that statement down since.

Gary Yourofsky, PETA’s former national education lecturer, has stated that “I hope fathers accidentally shoot heir sons on hunting excursions, while carnivores suffer heart attacks that kill them slowly.” Former PETA chief Alex Pacheco has said, “Arson, property destruction, burglary and theft are acceptable crimes when used for the animal cause.”

You might think PETA’s relatively small-scale People Mover advertising campaign is no big deal. You are right. It is not.The importance lies in what these radical groups are willing to do to garner attention.

Alaska citizens need pay heed. There may be things you wish to change in the mushing world, but I don’t wish to believe there are Alaskans who would intentionally commit a heinous crime to protest a dog race.

The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest watch closely how their respective races are run. Improvements are being made in veterinary care and race protocols. Change does not come quickly or easily to any major event, and knee jerk reactions to race-driven issues could harbor unforeseen consequences.

In his last two Quests, Allen Moore has dropped only one dog while posting first- and third-place finishes). Think about it -- in 2,000 miles of racing, only one single dog was not able to finish. Do you need to know something about dog care? Ask Allen.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

Study: Much higher fuel, cement fees needed to pay for Anchorage port work

Sun, 2019-02-17 09:33

Tankers Atalanta T and Atlantic Frontier offload a combined 525,000 barrels of jet fuel at the Port of Alaska on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. The port has a total liquid fuel storage capacity of 3.4 million barrels, or over 140 million gallons. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

Import charges levied on basic commodities at the Anchorage port could increase five-fold or more if the municipality is forced to rebuild decrepit shoreside infrastructure on its own dime, according to an analysis released last week.

The analysis looks at how much Port of Alaska tariffs on refined petroleum products and cement would have to be raised to cover the cost of borrowing $200 million to pay for replacing the port’s petroleum and cement terminal. It was prepared by the Virginia-based economic consulting firm Parrish, Blessing and Associates Inc. and presented at a Thursday Port Commission meeting.

Municipal Manager Bill Falsey said in a follow-up interview that the municipality will have to sell $200 million in revenue bonds in less than a year to stay on the construction schedule for the petroleum cement terminal.

“I think we have to have some credible way to borrow approximately this amount of money by the year’s end or we can’t procure construction for 2020 so then we would be in a situation where we would have half constructed the petroleum cement terminal,” said Falsey, who discussed the situation at the Port Commission meeting. “How long could we have a half-constructed petroleum cement terminal in the water? I don’t know the answer to that but it’s certainly not anybody’s desire.”

The cost for a new petroleum and cement terminal has been pegged at $223 million. About $20 million in funds left over from prior port construction appropriations would fund part of the work and the bonds would pay for the rest, Falsey said.

[Earlier coverage: Cost of fixing Anchorage port doubles to $2 billion, setting stage for higher gas and grocery prices]

The terminal must be done first in order to free up space for when the cargo docks are rebuilt and must be done while they are still being used by TOTE Maritime and Maston Inc., which provide container and roll-on, roll-off shipping services to Anchorage, according to Port Director Steve Ribuffo. It is also on the oldest part of the dock structure, he said.

Some of the pile-supported docks have been in place since 1961 and have far exceeded their initial 35-year design life as the saltwater they stand in has gradually taken its toll and corroded the steel support pilings to the point where many resemble Swiss cheese.

The port currently charges a tariff of 15.7 cents per barrel on petroleum products, which breaks down to 0.38 cents per gallon. Those rates would need to be increased by 45 percent per year until 2023 — when they would reach $1.01 per barrel and 2.4 cents per gallon — to cover the debt service on the bonds, according to the analysis.

For cement, the tariff is currently $1.61 per ton. It would similarly increase 39 percent per year and hit $8.30 cents per ton in 2023.

Falsey said the municipality believes the market price for cement is about $155 per ton now.

The tariff rates would stabilize after 2023, according to Ribuffo. The bonds would be 40-year revenue bonds calculated at 4.1 percent interest, he said.

Falsey said the state could either approve a general obligation bond sale to pay for the work and avoid the tariff increases or agree to backstop the port revenue bonds. The state’s guarantee would likely lower the interest rate on the debt somewhat.

Federal funding has also been sought — although unsuccessfully to this point — given the Department of Defense classifies Anchorage as a strategic defense port and therefore requires large amount of dock space to be available for rapid deployments from Alaska’s military installations.

The tariff plan is a way to limit cost increases to pay for the petroleum and cement terminal to the customers that use it; similar plans could be used when the rest of the port’s infrastructure is finally reconstructed.

Petroleum and cement tariffs generated $14.6 million for the port in 2018 and the rate hikes would lead to more than $24 million in annual revenue by 2023 if they don’t drive business away.

Falsey said port and city officials will spend the next month talking with the customers that use the terminal to try and determine what impacts the tariff increases could have on business.

The Port Commission is tentatively set to make its recommendation on the tariff changes to the Anchorage Assembly in mid-March; the Assembly would make the final decision.

The ultimate fear is that the changes could slow the petroleum and cement business at the port to where there wouldn’t be enough revenue generated to pay for the bonds.

The prospective tariffs could also have larger implications across the state economy from higher fuel prices, such as deterring cargo business at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Cargo carriers flying from Asia to the Lower 48 stop in Anchorage — and make it one of the busiest cargo hubs in the world — because it is slightly cheaper for them to haul more cargo and refuel here than it is to carry more fuel and fly over Alaska. Cargo industry experts say the cost difference is usually pennies on the gallon for jet fuel, so the potential impacts of the tariff changes is unknown at this point. “It’s pretty difficult to model that and we don’t have access to that kind of information that we would need to know,” Falsey said of how the suggested tariffs would impact some port customers and the broader economy.

He said city officials are hopeful those customers will be forthcoming with the information they need to make an informed decision and help them minimize the impact of the tariff changes if they are made.

Calls to several of those customers were not returned in time for this story.

Regardless of those impacts, the work needs to be done, Falsey stressed.

“Our view is that we need to have the new petroleum cement terminal and we are increasingly uncomfortable with the terminal we have rotting away into the ocean,” he said.

The first port rehabilitation project, Port of Anchorage Intermodal Expansion Project started in 2003, was intended to greatly increase the size of the port but it came to a halt in 2010 after extensive damage to the Open Cell Sheet Pile being installed to support the new docks was discovered. That work, much of which has been or will be removed as part of the new plan, cost roughly $300 million from a consolidated pool of local, state and federal dollars.

There was $128 million left when the expansion project stopped and Ribuffo said there is about $60 million left now after years of design work and some small-scale rehabilitation. The remaining money is being spread amongst the several phases of the port modernization project, he added.

Anchorage officials for years have been trying to gain support from state officials and lawmakers to help pay for the port work.

The Anchorage Assembly officially changed the name of the city-owned port in 2017 from the Port of Anchorage to the Port of Alaska in an attempt to highlight its importance statewide and possibly drum up support for funding the rebuild. It’s estimated that 90 percent of the goods destined for delivery across mainland Alaska are imported across the port’s docks. It is the epicenter of logistics and one of the foundational elements of the state’s economy.

Funding for the port modernization project has been the municipality’s only capital request to the state Legislature since Mayor Ethan Berkowitz took office in 2015. Those requests have recently been in the $300 million range, although cost estimates for the total port modernization project have gone from about $500 million in 2014 to nearly $2 billion currently.

The most recent cost projections from private consultants are for a 75-year design life and constructing one cargo dock to withstand shaking at least as severe as the 9.2 magnitude 1964 earthquake, according to Falsey. Those parameters were chosen in 2014 and are still flexible given design work on the rest of the port is ongoing.

“We are going to pick up all of those assumptions in the face of now this revised $2 billion number and say, ‘Is this what we can afford? Is this what we want? What do those assumptions cost us?’” Falsey said.

Private company hired to run Alaska Psychiatric Institute has a mixed record

Sun, 2019-02-17 09:12

The Alaska Psychiatric Institute, photographed Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

On Feb. 8, Alaska handed over management of the distressed Alaska Psychiatric Institute to a company, Wellpath Recovery Solutions, with a no-bid contract.

The move put Alaska’s most severely mentally ill adults and adolescents involuntarily committed into treatment at the state’s only psychiatric hospital in the hands of a private company for the first time.

At the center of it is a Nashville, Tennessee-based private equity firm-owned company that makes revenues of $1.5 billion per year running mental institutions and lockups for sex offenders across the United States.

The name Wellpath is new, but the company is not.

In various iterations, Wellpath’s predecessor Correct Care Solutions has operated in the private prison and incarceration services business for more than 20 years.

In that time, the company has accumulated a decidedly mixed record.

Most recently, Wellpath is credited for bringing humane conditions to an infamous Massachusetts psychiatric hospital. But in past years, deaths and disturbing conditions have been reported at some of its other properties. And some critics say for-profit psychiatric hospitals lead to cost cutting that hurts patients and profits off their illness.

"Not only are they profiting off someone’s loss of freedom, they are in control of their freedom,” said Bianca Tyler, the executive director of the Corrections Accountability Project, an advocacy group that works against commercial interests in incarceration.

Evolution of a company — and a rebrand

As budgets for governments charged with operating prisons and psychiatric hospitals have declined, states have increasingly turned to private companies to provide services ranging from medical care to food to phones.

[Earlier coverage: State paying private consultants $1 million a month to pull API from brink of regulatory disaster]

Companies like the GEO Group started first with prison services but then sensed an opening, beginning in the late 1990s, to operate troubled state-run psychiatric hospitals with the promise of better management for less money.

Wellpath’s precursor, Correct Care Solutions, was founded in Florida in 2003. In 2014, the company acquired GEO Care, a slice of the private prisons giant GEO Group, as the company sought to divest some of its businesses. It also bought several other smaller prison health care companies along the way.

Last year, Correct Care Solutions merged with another regional company providing incarceration medical care, Correctional Medical Group Companies. In late 2018, it re-branded as “Wellpath.”

Today the company operates 12 involuntary commitment centers and hospitals and sex offender treatment programs around the country and in Australia, with more contracts pending.

It is owned by H.I.G. Capital, a major private equity fund.

Private equity funds basically buy companies, add value and then sell them again -- the corporate equivalent of house flipping, said Bianca Tyler, executive director of the Corrections Accountability Project. They make a lot of money for investors, which typically include both private individuals and pension funds. The pressure to turn big profits is high.

[Support independent local reporting in Alaska. Subscribe now to the Anchorage Daily News /]

In recent years, private equity funds have invested heavily in the private prison and detention services industry. Other companies owned by private equity firms include the prison phone giant Securus and Corizon health, another major correctional health care company.

Correct Care Solutions says it changed its name to Wellpath because it better describes its work. But re-branding might have been a convenient way to leave some of the accumulated bad press behind.

“It’s part a trend we see in companies that engage in correctional work,” said Alex Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida nonprofit. “It’s a way of re-branding yourself and distancing yourself.”

The “old names are associated with bad things,” he said. “If you Google Correct Care Solutions, you’re going to find deaths, lawsuits, employees arrested for misconduct,” Friedmann said.

Successes, and troubles, at other Wellpath facilities

One of Wellpath’s most recent projects, Bridgewater Hospital in Massachusetts, has been heralded as a success in glowing media coverage.

One Boston Globe headline about the new management: “Humane care given a place at the state’s harshest hospital.

Under Wellpath management, the use of restraints and seclusion for patients has been “virtually eliminated,” according to the company.

[Earlier coverage: Federal investigators found more ‘substantial deficiencies’ at API than at any other US hospital last year]

It’s a marked difference, said Elizabeth Matos of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts. Matos praised Dr. Kevin Huckshorn, who was charged with making changes at Bridgewater for Wellpath and who is a key member of the company’s effort at API.

“But I would never say Wellpath holistically is doing a great job everywhere,” she said. “It’s not.”

Wellpath cites the 341-bed psychiatric facility South Florida State Hospital as one of its biggest success stories.

The company and its precursors take credit for managing the facility since 1998, when it became one of the first privately run state psychiatric hospitals in the nation. The company -- then under GEO Group -- built a new state-of-the-art facility and reduced the length of stay for patients, among other improvements. (Management was later handled by GEO Care, which was then folded in to Correct Care Solutions.)

But in 2012 a spate of patient deaths drew the attention of Florida regulators.

At South Florida State alone, there were gruesome deaths, including a heavily medicated psychotic patient who died in a bath so scalding that his skin sloughed off in 2011. Company officials didn’t properly report the death to the state, an investigation found.

In 2012, “doctors told their bosses ... that patients didn’t have enough food to eat and were picking through trash cans for their meals,” according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2015 investigation by Florida newspapers the Tampa Bay Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

At the same hospital, staffers were charged for beating a mentally ill patient in 2014.

“Wellpath is proud of our record at South Florida State Hospital,” Jeremy Barr, Wellpath’s senior vice president, said in an email.

He pointed out that South Florida State Hospital has never been in jeopardy of losing certification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (which API currently is) and has received awards for quality by The Joint Commission, a hospital accrediting organization.

Another hospital managed by the company, Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center, saw patients killed and staff maimed and was fined $700,000 by the state of Florida for not having the minimum number of employees required by its contract, according to an investigation by Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Correct Care has gotten into trouble elsewhere, too: A doctor in Michigan contracted by the company was arrested for sexually touching inmates.

The company has also been a major target of lawsuits.

In just over a decade, Correct Care Solutions was sued 1,400 times in federal court, according to the Project on Government Oversight. Many of the cases were filed directly by inmates not represented by lawyers, and were dismissed, Barr told Alaska lawmakers at a legislative hearing Wednesday.

It has also been the target of allegations of substandard care at immigrant detention centers where it works.

Wellpath Recovery Solutions has sought to distance itself from Correct Care Solutions, saying that it is a separate arm of the company that exclusively manages behavioral health facilities.

‘Financially incentivized’

Some people argue that introducing a profit motive to psychiatric care for involuntarily committed patients can only lead to worse care for patients.

“These companies are financially incentivized to keep people there, and that’s what you see happen,” said Tyler, of the Corrections Accountability Project. “You see people not going home or moving on from these facilities.”

There’s another layer of concern about private companies running psychiatric hospitals, Tyler said: Unlike inmates serving defined sentences, psychiatric patients are released on the orders of the hospital.

Wellpath said that its contract terms “provide no financial or other incentive to increase the duration of patient hospitalization” and that its goal is to see patients recover and return to their communities.

Another common criticism is that private prison operators only have an incentive to cut costs in order to maximize profits. Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center said that private prison operators are often criticized for not training or paying staff enough -- dangerous in volatile, violent environments like psychiatric hospitals.

“In order to generate profit you reduce expenses,” he said. “They do that in ways that harm patients.”

At two legislative hearings Wednesday, officials justified hiring Wellpath by pointing out that years of other approaches, including numerous studies and changes in leadership, have only led to a place of extreme dysfunction at API.

“What we have been doing has not worked,” said Wall.

API struggles continue as 2 doctors are fired by Dunleavy administration

Sun, 2019-02-17 09:08

Alaska Psychiatric Institute, pictured Oct. 13. (ADN archive)

Two psychiatrists at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, including the hospital’s chief of psychiatry, have been fired by the administration of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy after refusing to sign letters of resignation as part of the transition process from Gov. Bill Walker’s administration.

Their departure from the hospital brings new trouble to Alaska’s only state-run psychiatric hospital, which has struggled to meet demand for mental health treatment in Alaska. Last year, as Anchorage-area emergency rooms filled with psychiatric patients, a report by Anchorage attorney Bill Evans found that API was so overwhelmed that it was creating a dangerous situation for staff.

After the report’s publication, three officials — including the head of the hospital — resigned.

Now, Dr. Anthony Blanford, the chief psychiatrist at the institution, and Dr. John Bellville, a psychiatrist, have left the institution.

Their departures may have a significant effect on the hospital’s operations. In July, the hospital was placed under a “plan of correction” by Medicaid. Federal officials said at the time that if the hospital didn’t improve, it risked losing its ability to accept Medicaid funding.

Asked whether their departures will hurt efforts to improve the hospital’s situation, Evans said that he believes so.

“It’s certainly not going to help, and I think Blanford is — he was maybe the key figure there in helping turn things around,” he said.

Blanford said the hospital met the federal government’s plan on Nov. 30.

“It was to me a little bit of a miracle,” he said.

“We had a thing going,” Blanford said by phone. “There was a major setback when (former administrator) Ron Hale was asked to resign, and this is another hurdle that I’m not sure we’re going to be able to overcome.”

Though the hospital was cleared by the Centers for Medicaid Services, it remains under a state-level review.

The director of API did not return repeated calls for comment. In a prepared statement provided through a spokesman by email, Department of Health and Social Services commissioner Adam Crum said, “API has had challenges that have gone unaddressed for far too long, as indicated by a scathing report issued earlier this year which cited unsafe working conditions and complete mismanagement. This new Administration is committed to fixing API and addressing behavioral health issues in Alaska. While this process moves forward, management, doctors and staff at API are all committed to ensuring patients are receiving the appropriate level of quality mental health care.”

Hundreds of at-will state employees were asked to sign letters of resignation as part of the normal transition process between governors. The Dunleavy administration appears to have requested more than recent transitions, but the act itself is not unusual.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Dunleavy said most state employees filled out their resignation notices. According to a list provided in mid-November to the Daily News, about 800 employees were asked to submit letters of resignation.

“We’ve received back about 750 replies, maybe even more ... and just a couple of those individuals chose not to be part of the incoming administration,” Dunleavy said. “I would anticipate the vast majority of those individuals will be back, working for the administration; they’ve expressed the desire to do so.”

Blanford said the problem wasn’t the resignation request itself, but its meaning. He referred to a comment made by Dunleavy chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock to the Daily News in mid-November.

Asked about the purpose of the letters, Babcock said, “(Dunleavy) just wants all of the state employees who are at-will — partially exempt, exempt employees — to affirmatively say, ‘Yes, I want to work for the Dunleavy administration.' Not just bureaucracy staying in place, but sending out the message, ‘Do you want to work on this agenda, do you want to work in this administration? Just let us know.’ ”

“We have an ethical responsibility to not align ourselves with any political cause or ideology, and I’m not going to do that,” Blanford said.

He wrote a letter to the editor in the Daily News saying as much.

“I’m a service provider for the state, not a politician,” Bellville added. “To sign that kind of oath makes me feel compromised ethically.”

Other doctors at API chose to proceed differently: Four psychiatric practitioners remain on duty at the hospital.

While the resignation request may have prompted the departure of the two doctors, they said other factors encouraged them to leave. Not least is the hospital’s chronic under-staffing, they said.

After they received their notices, the two doctors said they had an extended meeting with Duane Mayes, the hospital’s administrator, and Crum, the new commissioner.

In that meeting, they were asked to reapply for their old jobs. They, in turn, asked if the new administration was willing to provide the 80-100 new staff members that they believe are needed to meet the demand for mental health services.

They said they didn’t like the answer they got.

“There are not enough resources in the community to handle all of the things, and API is taking the blame,” Blanford said.

The doctors' departure is likely to exacerbate the situation. Initially, the plan after their departure was to reduce the number of patients the hospital was accepting, said Dr. Lee Ann Gee Jenks, a psychiatrist at API. That has changed, she said. Now, psychiatric providers will simply be required to care for more patients, she said.

That has increased safety concerns for staff, said Alaska State Employees Association executive director Jake Metcalfe. The union represents some employees at API.

One staff member was injured in a weekend incident before the resignations, he said. Speaking to the Daily News by phone, he said he was scheduled to meet with hospital administrators Thursday afternoon.

“Our concern is our members’ safety, and it just has been an unsafe workplace for years, and our members are tired of getting hurt. They want the institution to run well, and they want good services for the patients,” Metcalfe said.

Federal investigators found more ‘substantial deficiencies’ at API than at any other US hospital last year

Sun, 2019-02-17 09:08

The Alaska Psychiatric Institute, photographed Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

In November, a patient at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute confessed a sexual assault on another patient to nurses.

When asked about it, the victim said they didn’t feel safe. But it took two days before the perpetrator was moved to another unit.

That finding was among the litany of problems documented at API over the past seven months by federal investigators from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In multiple visits from July to December, the investigators found more than 80 “substantial deficiencies,” according to a federal database. Each one of the deficiencies was deemed an “immediate jeopardy” to patient safety.

The facility had the worst record in the nation during that time period. No other hospital even came close.

Only one other Alaska hospital, St. Elias Specialty Hospital in Anchorage, was cited last year, for problems relating to blood transfusions.

Federal inspectors visited API last summer and put the institution under a “plan of correction” after documenting “failed practices” such as patients being strapped to a gurney and left in seclusion for refusing to go to their own room and “ligature risks” in units housing suicidal patients. The inspectors returned in November and December because of “continued non-compliance,” according to the agency.

As recently as Monday, investigators were back at API and discovered another “immediate jeopardy” situation at API, according to CMS. The investigation continues.

Hundreds of pages of published findings from the 2018 offer a stark, detailed view of care inside Alaska’s only state-run psychiatric hospital.

The reports detail scenes such as:

• An adult with an intellectual disability and “intermittent explosive disorder” being strapped onto a restraint table by ankles and wrists and briefly left alone, crying, in a dark room.

• Another patient managed to drink hand sanitizer at least five times while being given “alone time” by staff members in an exercise room, leading to a medical hospitalization for vomiting.

• In another incident, video showed a staff member kneeling on the chest of a patient being strapped into restraints and grabbing another by the neck and head, putting the person at risk of injury.

• Patients who were sent to the “Oak Room” -- a locked room that’s supposed to be used for secluding violent people as a last resort -- were not allowed out even after they were calm and following staff instructions. In some cases people spent more than two hours in the room.

Most of what the inspectors documented happened months after already broadly publicized problems at API, including an independent report that found API to be an unsafe workplace and the firing of top officials.

For API — for Alaska’s mentally ill people — the stakes are high.

“A big stick”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services acts as a federal oversight agency for medical facilities, charged with ensuring hospitals all over the United States are following the federal regulations and can thus accept federal funds. In extreme cases, the agency can take away a hospital’s ability to receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. It’s called being “decertified” and it’s essentially a death blow for most hospitals.

“That’s a big stick,” said Rosemary Gibson, an expert on health care and the author of “Wall of Silence,” a book about medical errors. “It is very rare for CMS to do that.”

[Support local journalism in Anchorage. Subscribe to the Anchorage Daily News /]

Experts say the kind of record API racked up over the past seven months would normally put a hospital on track for decertification.

It happened to Western State Hospital, a troubled state-run psychiatric hospital in Lakewood, Wash., which failed so many inspections that it lost $53 million in federal funding in 2018.

But Alaska is in a unique position: API is already the overburdened crux of Alaska’s emergency mental health system. Already, its diminished capacity is hurting people in mental health crisis.

Some of the hospital’s units have been closed because they couldn’t safely be operated with low staffing, reducing the number of urgently needed beds. This fall, police began dropping off civilly committed people in psychiatric crisis at the jail because all hospitals including API were full.

There, people who haven’t committed a crime have spent days — 13 days in one case, according to DOC — wearing the same jail jumpsuits, eating the same sack lunches passed through a cell door and getting the same hour of recreation time as inmates.

“They would have to be pretty desperate to shut down the state’s only psychiatric hospital,” said Dave Fleurant, the executive director of the Disability Law Center of Alaska.

The public would be right to be concerned about what federal inspectors found at API, said Albert Wall, deputy commissioner with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. But a plan to correct problems is already underway, he said.

“I’m already seeing a turnaround,” he said in an interview last week. The department will announce “favorable good news” about API “very soon,” Wall said.

By Friday, the state should know whether its latest proposed “plan of correction” has been accepted, according to the Department of Health and Social Services. The department said that plan is still in draft form and declined to release it to the public.

Seclusion and restraint

National experts and former employees say the CMS findings are trouble, both in sheer number and in content. But they are also a symptom of a more complex set of problems at the hospital.

“Deficiencies can almost always be found,” said Stephen Jencks, a psychiatrist by training who is now an independent health care safety consultant. “What you’re looking for is what they do about them.”

Kristi Brooks, a former protective services officer at API who left her job to spend time with family in early December, said the CMS findings don’t paint a complete picture of what’s happening at the facility.

“The staff was set up to fail,” she said.

Staff were often left confused about what was acceptable and what was unacceptable when dealing with violent patients, Brooks said.

“It felt like everyone’s hands kept getting slapped but no one was told when they did wrong,” she said. “We would be told there were CMS investigations, that we were cited. But no one would come out and say what those were and what needed to be changed.”

In June, a whistleblower safety officer at API wrote an e-mail chain that was eventually circulated to dozens of top state officials about what he saw as egregious misuses of the seclusion and restraint policy, especially in API’s Chilkat wing for adolescents.

“Seclusions are quite clearly being used for punishments, retaliation, attempts at behavior modifications and/or staff’s convenience,” he wrote.

He warned that he would continue contacting CMS. Some staff blamed the safety officer for seeming “hell bent on taking API down,” said Brooks.

A disagreement over when it’s OK to use force to restrain or seclude a violent or unruly patient is at the heart of API’s problems, according to Anchorage attorney Bill Evans, the author of an independent report on API workplace safety.

Many staff members believe the administration is protecting patients at the expense of the safety of workers, Evans wrote. Some think the method taught to nursing staff to deal with handling out-of-control patients is unrealistic and can’t control violent patients.

“The fundamental cultural divide existing at API cannot be overstated as it permeates nearly all aspects of the workplace,” Evans wrote.

Workers at API find themselves in an impossible situation, said Doug Carson, a business agent with the Alaska State Employees Association, which represents unionized employees at API.

“It creates a situation where workers don’t feel like they can do anything to protect themselves,” Carson said.

What about the patients?

Anchorage mental health advocates Faith Myers and Dorrance Collins have long focused on the idea that one key to improving the experiences of psychiatric patients is giving them a robust and functional system to pursue grievances against the hospital.

They say if patients could have their concerns taken seriously the hospital would have more accountability to the people it’s supposed to serve -- not just regulators.

Faith Myers and Dorrance Collins, photographed in their East Anchorage home in 2012. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

What’s next?

The Center for Medicare is back inspecting at API this week.

People might not be shocked to hear about problems with a state-run psychiatric hospital, especially if the demands on it far outstrip the resources, said Jencks, the health-care safety expert.

He thinks it would be unlikely for the federal authorities to force API to close because it’s so important to the fragile web of mental health care in Alaska.

“How do you fix it?” he said. “That’s the really interesting question.”

Anchorage police asking for public’s help in investigation of body found in Spenard

Sun, 2019-02-17 09:00

A body was discovered outside off West 36th Avenue in Anchorage early Sunday and police are asking for help.

Little information was immediately available. Police were called to the 1300 block of West 36th, between Arctic Boulevard and Spenard Road after some discovered a body outside a business, police said in a Nixle alert. The person who discovered the body stayed on the scene and cooperated with officers, police wrote.

The police crime scene team was called but there was no immediate word on cause of death or the identify of the person found. Police are asking anyone with information on the death, or with surveillance video of the area, to call police dispatch at 3-1-1.

Man charged with murder in shooting death of employee at Spenard Road hotel, Anchorage police say

Sun, 2019-02-17 08:44

A 20-year-old man was charged with murder in the shooting death of an employee at a Spenard Road hotel Saturday night, Anchorage police said.

Little information was being released. Police were called to the Barratt Inn at 4610 Spenard Road just before 9 p.m., police said in a Nixle alert. A man had been shot inside the building and was declared dead soon after officers arrived, the alert said.

On Sunday morning, police said Theandrea Ignacio Luster, 20, had been arrested and charged with murder, misconduct involving a weapon.

“Initial indications are that there was some type of verbal disturbance between the victim, who was a Barratt Inn employee, and the suspect which led to the shooting inside the hotel,” police wrote. “It is unknown at this time whether or not the two knew one another prior to this incident.”

The name of the victim has not been released, and police are not saying what the victim’s job was at the hotel.

Chicago police: Jussie Smollett assault case has ‘shifted’

Sun, 2019-02-17 06:58

FILE - In this Monday, May 14, 2018 file photo, actor and singer Jussie Smollett attends the Fox Networks Group 2018 programming presentation after party at Wollman Rink in Central Park in New York. Smollett, who is black and gay, has said he was attacked by two masked men shouting racial and anti-gay slurs early Jan. 29, 2019. Chicago police said on Saturday, Feb. 16, "the trajectory of the investigation" into the reported attack on Smollett has shifted and they want to conduct another interview with the "Empire" actor. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File) (Evan Agostini/)

CHICAGO — Chicago police said Saturday the investigation into the assault reported by Jussie Smollett has “shifted” due to information received from two brothers questioned in the case, and attorneys for the “Empire” actor blasted reports alleging he played a role in his own attack.

Chicago police had arrested, then released the two Nigerian brothers without charges late Friday and said they were no longer suspects in the attack.

"We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an emailed statement Saturday. "We've reached out to the Empire cast member's attorney to request a follow-up interview."

Guglielmi did not elaborate on what he meant by a shift in the case.

Smollett's attorneys later Saturday issued a statement saying the actor would continue to cooperate with police, but felt "victimized" by reports that he might have been involved in the attack.

"Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying," the statement from attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said..

Smollett, who is black and gay, has said he was physically attacked by two masked men shouting racial and anti-gay slurs and "This is MAGA country!" He said they looped a rope around his neck before running away as he was out getting food at a Subway restaurant. He said they also poured some kind of chemical on him.

On Wednesday, Chicago police picked up the brothers at O'Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria. They described them as "suspects" in the assault, questioned them and searched their apartment.

Then, late Friday evening they released the two men without charges and said they were no longer suspects. They said they had gleaned new information from their interrogation of them.

One of the men is Smollett's personal trainer who he hired to get him physically ready for a music video, the statement from Smollett's attorneys said.

"It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie's complicity," the statement said.

Police have said they were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime and considered Smollett a victim. Reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Smollett gave an emotional speech during a concert in West Hollywood, California , on Feb. 2 saying that he went ahead with the show because he couldn't let his attackers win.

Smollett also gave an interview to Robin Roberts of ABC News that aired Thursday, saying that he was "pissed" at people who did not believe he was attacked.

"I've heard that it was a date gone bad, which I also resent that narrative," he said. "I'm not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That's ridiculous. And it's offensive."

Earlier this week, police said reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed ..

Producers of the Fox television drama have supported Smollett, saying his character on "Empire," James Lyon, was not being written off the show.

Police said they combed surveillance video in the heavily-monitored downtown Chicago area but were unable to find any footage of the attack.

Smollett turned over redacted phone records that police said were not sufficient for a criminal investigation.

UAA, Ferris State skate to tie, but Seawolves pick up an extra point

Sun, 2019-02-17 00:04

One shot, two precious points for the UAA hockey team.

Jonah Renouf scored one minute into the second overtime period Saturday night at Sullivan Arena, a goal that didn’t earn the Seawolves a win – the game goes down as a 1-1 tie – but did earn them two points in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings.

UAA and Ferris State were tied 1-1 after regulation and neither managed to score during the 5-on-5 overtime period, meaning each team picked up one WCHA point for the tie. Renouf’s goal during the 3-on-3 overtime period was worth an additional point for the Seawolves, who would have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a loss.

The WCHA’s top eight teams goes to the playoffs. UAA (3-24-3 overall, 2-19-3 WCHA) and Ferris State (8-21-3, 5-16-3) are the league’s 10th- and ninth-place teams, respectively. Ferris State won Friday’s game at Sullivan Arena, 2-1.

The Seawolves grabbed 1-0 lead four minutes into the game on Nicolas Erb-Ekholm’s unassisted goal. Erb-Ekholm forced a turnover in front of the Ferris State goal to set up his fifth goal of the season.

Ferris State tied the game about two minutes later.

The game stayed deadlocked through the rest of regulation and the first overtime. Renouf ended things when his shot, coming off an assist by Tomi Hiekkavirta, got past Ferris State goalie Roni Salmenkangas.

Kris Carlson made 25 saves for UAA, which outshot Ferris State 27-26. Salmenkangas stopped 25 shots for the Bulldogs.

UAA was 0 for 4 on the power play; Ferris State was 0 for 2.

The Seawolves head to Michigan Tech this week for their final road trip of the regular season.

Bjornsen 5th; Brennan, Hanneman in top 30 at World Cup sprint

Sat, 2019-02-16 21:49

Three Alaskans were part of a big day for the U.S. Ski Team at a World Cup cross-country ski race Saturday in Cogne, Italy.

Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins won the women’s sprint race and Colorado’s Simi Hamilton was fourth in the men’s race to lead a strong showing by the Americans.

Six women and four men skied their way into the top 30 for the United States. Among them were three Alaska Pacific University skiers – fifth-place Sadie Bjorsen and 27th-place Rosie Brennan in the women’s race and 27th-place Logan Hanneman in the men’s race.

Hanneman qualified for the heats by placing 15th in the morning preliminaries.

Bjornsen and Brennan both credited a strong training camp in Davos, Switzerland, for their success, which comes a week before the World Championships in Austria.

“I was really thrilled to have finished fifth today,” said Bjornsen. “After a long camp of solid training in Davos it feels good to know my plan to ‘focus my top form on the Championships’ is working out. Any time I make a sprint final means I’m in a place to fight for the podium. A few more days of sharpening up and a mind that is ready to dig even deeper is exactly what I was dreaming of for this time of year.”

Alaska High School Hall of Fame to induct 7 athletes, 2 coaches

Sat, 2019-02-16 21:43

Chugiak's Alev Kelter, left, was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in soccer.

The Alaska High School Hall of Fame is set to induct its 2019 class, featuring 10 individuals-- seven athletes, two coaches and a lifetime achievement inductee.

The induction ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. at the Lakefront Hotel on May 5. It is open to the public.

Seven athletes highlight the selections:

— Justin Dorn, Juneau Douglas (2001). Dorn was an all-state soccer star with a state championship under his belt who went on to play for Gonzaga.

— Philip Engebretsen, Homer (1989). Engebretsen was a multi-sport standout in wrestling, basketball and football. After high school, Engebretsen attended Occidental College, where he played basketball and threw javelin.

— Randy Hanson, Bethel (2010). Hanson was a three-time state championship wrestler who also excelled in basketball and cross country. Following high school, Hanson wrestled for the University of Minnesota and now teaches and coaches at South High.

— Alev Kelter, Chugiak (2009). Kelter was a standout in hockey, soccer and flag football and was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in soccer. She played Division I hockey and soccer at Wisconsin and was a member of the U.S. women’s rugby team at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

— Stacia Rustad, Kenai Central (1992). Rustad was a state-championship basketball star who also excelled in track and field, cross country and volleyball. She played basketball and was a two-time Scholar Athlete of the Year at the University of Maine and now serves as the athletic director at Wasilla High.

— Cody Tanner, Chugiak (1978). Tanner was a two-time state championship wrestler who finished his high school career with a 74-6 record.

— Austin Vanderford, Ninilchik (2008). Vanderford was a two-time state champion wrestler who also garnered several awards as a basketball player. Following high school, Vanderford wrestled for Southern Oregon University, where he was a national champion and two-time NAIA All-American.

Also among the 2019 Hall of Fame class are two coaches:

— Mike Ashley, hockey. Ashley coached a combined 19 seasons at Dimond, West, Service and South and had a hand in nine state championships.

— Vic Belleque, volleyball and basketball. As a boys and girls basketball coach at Dillingham for more than 20 years, Belleque amassed more than 300 career wins and five conference championships. As a volleyball coach, his teams won eight conference championships.

The Class of 2019 also includes lifetime achievement inductee Steve Nerland, a longtime advocate for youth sports. Nerland is the founder and president of the Alliance for the Support of American Legion Baseball, the founder of the Alaska Airlines Classic basketball tournament and the chairman of the Service Cougars Tipoff basketball tournament. He also helped coach Service to a state baseball championship.

Tetzner, Engeberg among top finishers in Junior World Championship sled dog races

Sat, 2019-02-16 21:39

Several racers won their heats by considerable margins Saturday on the first day of competition in the Alaskan Sled Dog and Racing Association’s Junior World Championships at snowy Tozier Track.

Leonie Tetzner finished first in the single-dog, quarter-mile race in 67 seconds, 22 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Joseph Wellmann.

In the two-dog, 2.3-mile race, Ezra Engeberg was the top finisher in 9:22, 24 seconds ahead of Mia Maruskie.

Mia Franz was the top finisher (14:20) in the three-dog, 4 mile race. Franz finished three minutes ahead of Tietje Paveglio (17:20), which was the largest margin of victory between first and second place finishers on Saturday.

The five-dog, 6-mile race saw Johanna Badalich placing first in 18:15, more than two minutes ahead of Marilla Tichotsky (20:43). All five racers raced with four dogs, with the exception of Tichotsky who raced with five.

Zachary Maruskie was the lone seven-dog, 8-mile racer, placing first by default (24:35). Maruskie raced with six dogs.

Racing resumes Sunday at 10 a.m.

Leonie Tetzner, 8, poses for a photo after winning the 1-dog class race Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 during the Junior World Championship Sled Dog Race at Tozier Track. Tetzner and her family, who live in Burg, Germany, come to Alaska nearly every year with around 30 dogs. Leonie's father, Michael Tetzner, competes in the Fur Rondy World Championships. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)
Shannon Wellmann, left, and Johanna Badalich catch a riderless sled in the 2-dog class race Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 during the Junior World Championship Sled Dog Race at Tozier Track. Musher Hudson Wright was one of two mushers to lose their team during the 2-dog class race. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

State champion South lands 6 players on all-state hockey team

Sat, 2019-02-16 21:38

South High senior Nic Corbin, who scored a hat trick in his team’s 6-3 First National Cup Division I title win over Service last weekend, was one of six Wolverines named to the 2019 Alaska High School Hockey Coaches Association DI All-State Team.

Service, the state runner-up, placed three players on the team and Dimond, which placed third in state and was the Cook Inlet Conference runner-up to South, finished with seven players on the team.

The team was selected by a vote of the state’s high school coaches.

Alaska High School Coaches Association Division I All-State Team


Tyler Huffer, Chugiak; Henry Minich, Dimond; Drake Reid, Dimond; Logan Dudinsky, Eagle River; Colton Gerken, South; Aidan Goff, Wasilla; Jacob Easley, West


Luke Momblow, Chugiak; Grant Epple, Chugiak; Dylan Hoey, Dimond; Landen Reed, Dimond; Teague Porter, Dimond; Jakub Hall, Dimond; Ty McEnaney, Eagle River; Tucker Lien, Eagle River; Jake Hayes, Service; Kellen Harris, Service; Ryan Bailey, South; Nicholas Corbin, South; Rylan Marcum, South; Hayden Fox, South; Revy Mack, West


Hunter Kattness, Dimond; Kevin Taunton, Service; Hannah Hogenson, South

Seawolves run to 5 GNAC track titles and get a showstopping relay performance

Sat, 2019-02-16 21:33

Dani McCormick, middle, was a member of UAA's record-setting distance medley relay team at this weekend's GNAC indoor track and field championships. (Loren Holmes / ADN archives) (Loren Holmes/)

By the time the baton got to wonder-woman Caroline Kurgat, victory was all but ensured for the UAA distance medley relay team this weekend at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference indoor track and field meet in Nampa, Idaho.

“Then we were racing to see how fast we could run,” UAA coach Michael Friess said. “Turns out pretty fast.”

Not only did the team of Ruth Cvancara, Vanessa Aniteye, Dani McCormick and Kurgat set a GNAC Championships record with their time of 11 minutes, 23.47 seconds, they recorded the sixth-fastest time in NCAA Division II history, according to Friess.

Cvancara delivered a solid opening 1,200-meter leg, Aniteye built a gap with her 400-meter leg, McCormick widened the lead with her 800-meter leg -- the distance she won a national title in last season -- and then Kurgat was off to the races for the final 1,600-meter leg.

Kurgat, the senior from Kenya who earlier this season set NCAA Division II national records in the 5,000 and 3,000, added two individual titles to her growing resume with Saturday wins in the 3,000 meters and mile run.

Wesley Kirui and Nancy Jeptoo supplied the Seawolves with a sweep of the 5,000-meter titles, giving UAA four individual titles plus a victory in the medley relay.

The men finished second in the team standings behind Western Washington, and the women were third behind Seattle Pacific and Central Washington. Kurgat was named the female track athlete of the meet, and she and her teammates on the medley relay team -- Ruth Cvancara, Vanessa Aniteye and Dani McCormick – earned the award for best performance of the meet.

“It was nice to see the athletes step up and perform at a high level,” Friess said.

Among the many highlights for UAA:

-- Kirui led a 1-2-3-4-5 finish by the UAA men in Friday’s 5,000 meters – an event UAA has won seven years in a row. Kirui won in 14:55.66, two seconds ahead of defending champion Felix Kemboi. Following them were Edwin Kangogo (15:07.57), Jorge Sanchez (15:10.99) and Nickson Koech (15:11.48).

-- Jeptoo won the women’s 5,000 in 17:48.46 to become the fifth UAA woman in seven years to win the race.

-- Kurgat led a 1-3 UAA finish in the 3,000 and a 1-5 finish in the mile. In the mile, her time of 4:47.86 set a GNAC Championship and UAA record; McCormick placed fifth in 5:11.3. In the 3,000, Kurgat won in 9:54.4 – well off her national-record 9:07.05 recorded in January – and Jeptoo was third in 10:06.11.

-- Chrisalyn Johnson, a star on the volleyball team and a rookie on the track team, placed second in the triple jump and third in the high jump. A former track standout at Dimond High, she finished less than an inch away from victory in the triple jump with a leap of 39 feet, 3 inches, breaking the old school record by 15 inches.

“Boy, she has an incredible amount of potential,” Friess said. “Very athletic."

-- Brandon Nicholson and Chris Brake each provided top-four finishes in the triple jump and high jump. Nicholson jumped a school-record 48-0.5 to place second in the triple jump and added a fourth-place finish in the high jump, while Brake placed third in both events.

Other top efforts included a runnerup finish in the men’s mile from Drew Johnson, a freshman who was less than one second off the victory; third-place finishes from Enrique Campbell in the 60 meters and Aniteye in the 400 meters; and fourth-place finishes from David Sramek in the heptathlon, where his pole vault mark of 15-3 was a school record, and from the women’s 1,600-meter relay team of Aniteye, Cvancara, Elena Cano and Marie Ries.

The Seawolves have one more meet before the March 8-9 national championships.

Rymer gets UAA men’s basketball team back on track

Sat, 2019-02-16 21:28

Sophomore guard Brennan Rymer detonated for career highs in points and rebounds in the UAA men’s basketball team’s 92-85 win over the Central Washington Wildcats on Saturday in Ellensburg, Washington.

With the win, the Seawolves snapped a four-game losing streak and held onto fifth place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

The Seawolves shot an efficient 55 percent (33 of 60) from the field, an effort highlighted by a 30-point outburst from Rymer. Rymer flirted with a triple-double, also piling up nine assists and nine rebounds.

Junior Tyler Brimhall added 21 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Senior Brian Pearson provided 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, and Jack Macdonald and Niko Bevens each had 11 points.

“It was a good team win,” UAA coach Rusty Osborne said in a press release from the school. “Of course, Brennan had a phenomenal game after struggling for a couple weeks."

Rymer, who is from Sydney, Australia, came one point shy of tying UAA men’s basketball’s record for most points by a foreign player -- in 2008, fellow Australian Luke Cooper scored 31.

The Seawolves (13-11 overall, 8-8 GNAC) outrebounded the Wildcats 36 to 28 despite missing their second-leading rebounder, junior Sjur Berg, who missed his third straight game with an injury.

Central Washington (10-14, 4-12) was led by freshman Zellie Hudson’s 24 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

UAA entered the game tied for fifth place in the GNAC and left it in sole possession of fifth place -- Montana State-Billings slipped into sixth place after dropping an overtime decision to Northwest Nazarene on Saturday. The top six teams will qualify for the GNAC tournament next month.

The Seawolves will battle Western Washington on Thursday at the Alaska Airlines Center.

UAA women’s basketball team routs Western Oregon, keeps winning streak alive

Sat, 2019-02-16 20:29

UAA's Hannah Wandersee attempts a layup during a game against Western Oregon on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at the Alaska Airlines Center. UAA won 97-52. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

The scorching-hot UAA women’s basketball team extended its winning streak to 16 games Saturday with a 97-52 victory over the Western Oregon Wolves at the Alaska Airlines Center.

The 10th-ranked Seawolves (15-1 Great Northwest Athletic Conference, 23-1 overall) had their most efficient shooting night of the season in the blowout.

The Seawolves shot 55.6 percent from the field (40 of 72), 45.8 percent from deep (11 of 24) and saw five players score in double figures.

UAA's Safiyyah Yasin dribbles past Western Oregon's Tressai McCarver during a game on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at the Alaska Airlines Center. UAA won 97-52. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

Senior Kian McNair posted a game-high and career-high 19 points, converting on nine of 12 field goal attempts. Senior Sydni Stallworth added 16 points and junior Yazmeen Goo finished with 13 points, seven assists and four steals.

The Seawolves defense forced Western Oregon into 27 turnovers. They tallied 21 steals with all but one player credited with a steal.

The matchup was one-sided for the entirety of the game, with UAA leading 28-7 at the end of the first quarter. Western Oregon did not lead at any point during the game.

“I was pleased with how well we asserted ourselves right out of the gate tonight,” UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said in a press release from the school. “Syd and Tara (Thompson) got us started, and we continued to get good looks within the confines of our offense.”

Western Oregon was led by senior Ali Nelke’s 13 points and six rebounds. Junior Natalie DeLonge posted the second-best scoring effort for the Wolves with 12 points.

UAA heads to Seattle this week for a Thursday matchup against conference rival Seattle Pacific.

UAA's Kian McNair attempts a basket as Western Oregon's Amber Winkler defends during a game on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at the Alaska Airlines Center. UAA won 97-52. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

After 50 kilometers of biking through the snow, 11 seconds decide Little Su 50K

Sat, 2019-02-16 20:01

Bikers in the Little Su 50K leave the start line Saturday at Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake. (Photo by Mary Steiert)

Fat-tire bikes, thin margin.

After 50 kilometers of biking through the snow, all that separated the top two finishers in the Little Su 50K wilderness race was 11 seconds.

Jason Lamoreaux set the pace on a soft trail with a time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, 47 seconds.

Oliver Sternicki was right behind in 2:32:58. Jamie Stull was third in 2:33:08.

The 50K race, held in the Susitna Valley, is a companion to the 100-mile Susitna 100 that also started Saturday at the Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake. Participants can use any mode of human-powered transportation in the event – bikes, skis or feet.

Kamie Miller turned in an impressive running effort with a winning time of 5:22:27. She was 12 minutes ahead of the next-fastest runner, Caitlin Vandenberg, and an hour ahead of the fastest skier.

Daniel Johnson was the top skier in 6:21.37.

The top finishers in the Su 100 were expected to complete their races sometime Saturday night.

Litte Su 50K

Men’s bike -- 1) Jason Lamoreaux, 2:32:47; 2) Oliver Sternicki, 2:32:58; 3) Jamie Stull, 2:33:08.

Women’s bike --

1) Amber Stull, 3:05:52; 2) Sheryl Loan, 3:12:39; 3) Kristina Eaton, 3:19:19.

Men’s run -- 1) Keith Blanchette, 6:51:41.

Women’s run – 1) Kamie Miller, 5:22:27; 2) Caitlin Vandenberg, 5:34:28.

Men’s ski -- 1) Daniel Johnson, 6:21:37.

UAA to host pair of ski meets this week

Sat, 2019-02-16 19:53

UAA will host the Seawolf Invitational and the NCAA Regional Championship ski meets this week, meets that will bring some of the nation’s top college skiers to town.

The Seawolf Invitational starts Sunday and runs through Wednesday while the NCAA West Regional Championships start Wednesday and conclude on Feb. 24.

The nordic events will be held at Kincaid Park and Government Peak at Hatcher Pass while the alpine events will be held at Alyeska Resort.

This season marks the third time UAA has hosted the NCAA Regional Championships and the first time since 2015.

Upcoming schedule

Sunday — Mass-start freestyle races, 10 a.m., Kincaid Park

Monday — Classic sprints, 10 a.m., Kincaid Park

Wednesday — Interval-start freestyle races, 11 a.m., Government Peak

Thursday — Giant slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort

Friday — Giant slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort; mass-start classic races, 10 a.m., Kincaid Park

Saturday — Slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort

Sunday (Jan. 24) — Slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort

Eid, Liles ski to Alyeska Cup overall titles

Sat, 2019-02-16 19:46

Hunter Eid and Ava Liles each captured two state championships on their way to winning the overall Alyeska Cup titles at the recently concluded Alyeska Cup races in Girdwood.

Both are members of the Alyeska Ski Club.

Eid, a U19 skier, won state titles in the slalom and super-G. Liles, a U16 skier, took state titles in the slalom and giant slalom.

Also claiming state championships were Randi Von Wichman in the super-G and Connor Lane in the giant slalom.

How genealogists helped track down the Maine man accused of killing Sophie Sergie nearly 26 years ago

Sat, 2019-02-16 18:52

Steven H. Downs, 44, was arrested Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 in connection with the death of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993. (Photo Courtesy Androscoggin County Jail.)

Just before 3 a.m. on April 26, 1993, custodial workers cleaning a dormitory bathroom at the University of Alaska Fairbanks made a discovery that would shock the Fairbanks community and haunt the Alaska State Troopers for the next quarter century.

Sophie Sergie, a 20-year-old woman from the Yukon River village of Pitkas Point who had been on campus visiting a friend, was lying in a bathtub, dead. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times and shot in the back of the head, according to the charging document in the case.

“The case did kind of shatter the sense of security at the university,” said Shirley Lee, an Episcopal priest who holds a remembrance vigil in Fairbanks every year on the anniversary of Sergie’s death. Lee took the vigil over from another woman, Shirley Demientieff, who held rallies and marches demanding justice for Sergie.

Sergie, who had previously been a student at UAF studying marine biology on full scholarship, had moved home to the Western Alaska village of Pitkas Point to earn money for orthodontic work she needed done, according to the charging document in her case. She was scheduled for an orthodontist appointment the morning after her death.

As the months wore on, it looked like justice might never come. Investigators were able enter DNA evidence recovered from Sergie’s body into a national database run by the FBI, but there was no matching profile on file, the Alaska State Troopers said.

The DNA also didn’t match any of the dozens of genetic samples investigators collected in the months that followed Sergie’s killing. In time, the trail went cold. For nearly 26 years, the person who killed Sophie Sergie evaded detection.

Then, last year, investigators found a match.

Steven H. Downs, 44, who was living in Auburn, Maine, not only had a DNA profile that matched the evidence — he had been a student at UAF at the time of her death.

He was arrested Friday in Maine and charged with first-degree murder and sexual assault, the troopers announced in a news conference the same day.

The match didn’t come through the FBI database, though. Instead, investigators brought in help from an unexpected group: genealogists. Specifically, they brought in the help of CeCe Moore, the chief genetic genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs, a California-based DNA engineering firm.

Moore’s specialty, genetic genealogy, is a very young science. It’s so young, Moore said, that there are no official programs of study that teach it and no agency that certifies those who practice it. Genetic genealogists — the few that there are — are mostly self-taught specialists who started as hobbyists, she said.

Sophie Sergie. (Alaska State Troopers / Handout)

Moore and her colleagues use a combination of genetic testing and family history research, made popular by the likes of, to solve what Moore calls “family mysteries.” That could be anything from adopted people who don’t know who their biological parents are to people who were kidnapped as children to people who were switched at birth or suffer from memory loss, she said.

Nine months ago, Moore started using the method to help law enforcement solve crimes. The Alaska State Troopers reached out to ask for her help with Sergie’s case in October 2018.

It works like this: When a person uses a consumer genetic testing kit, like the ones offered by AncestryDNA and 23andMe, that person can choose to download their results and re-upload them into a database called GEDMatch. GEDMatch isn’t itself a genetic testing service, Moore said, but a repository where users can choose to store their genetic information.

Once genetic genealogists have a DNA sample taken from a crime scene, they can test it against the 1.4 million DNA profiles that have been voluntarily uploaded to the GEDMatch database.

If the search returns a match, they can determine how closely related the matching profile is to the sample taken from the scene — whether the person is “first degree” relative of the suspect, like a parent or sibling, “second degree” like a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even farther removed than that.

From there, they can use public records, such as obituaries, engagement announcements and social media posts, to narrow down a suspect.

“It’s a revolution in crime fighting, without a doubt," Moore said.

Olga Tinker-John comforts her aunt Elena Sergie as Alaska State Troopers announce the arrest of Steven H. Downs in the 1993 Fairbanks murder of Sophie Sergie, on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 at the Alaska State Crime Lab. Elena Sergie is Sophie’s mother. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

When Moore tested the DNA taken from Sergie’s body, it returned a “second-degree” match from the database. That pointed to a half sibling, a grandchild/grandparent, or an aunt/nephew relationship.

“When you see that close of a match, there is an extremely high likelihood that you’ll be able to identify the suspect,” Moore said.

Through family history research, Moore’s team narrowed down the most likely suspect down to the match’s nephew: Steven Downs.

Downs was living in Aurora, Maine. But in April 1993, he was an 18-year-old student at UAF. He lived in the same dorm where Serge’s body was found. His dorm room was one floor below, according to charging documents. Witnesses had placed him in the building that night, according to charges.

Downs’ roommate at UAF had previously told investigators that Downs kept a .22-caliber handgun in their dorm room, the same caliber that was used to shoot and kill Sergie, the charges say.

Downs, who was born in Maine, left there to attend college at UAF from 1992 to 1996. After he graduated, he lived in Arizona for a time before returning to Maine, and had been a nurse there, according to the charges and licensing information in Maine.

The genetic match wasn’t enough to make an arrest. Investigators still have to compare the suspect’s DNA directly against the evidence.

“I point them in the right direction and they decide whether that seems like a viable suspect," Moore said.

When investigators visited Downs at his home in Maine on Wednesday, he told them he recognized Sergie from pictures that had been put up after her death, but denied knowing her over ever speaking to her. He said he, “never knew or saw anything to begin with," according to the charges.

He told them multiple times that he believed soldiers from nearby Fort Wainwright had killed her, since they were “often in the building,” according to the charging document.

When investigators showed him photos of Sergie, he reportedly told them, “I remember the pictures, it’s terrible, poor girl."

The next day, Thursday, investigators obtained a warrant to search Downs’ home and take a DNA swab from him, according to the charges. It matched.

He was charged on Friday, and is now being detained at the Androscoggin County Jail in Maine to await extradition back to Alaska. Alaska State Troopers announced the charges at a news conference in Anchorage, joined by members of Sergie’s family.

Genetic genealogy was also used to point investigators in the direction of Joseph James DeAngelo, who is now on trial in California for the “Golden State Killer” murders.

Agencies nationwide are “flocking” to the the new method, Moore said, and Downs’ arrest may spur even more to try it. In the last nine months, Parabon has helped law enforcement agencies identify 37 potential suspects.

In the future, the method might even be used to help solve active cases as well, which she said could have far reaching implications, especially for groups who are more vulnerable to violent crime.

“This is really important for everyone, but particularly for vulnerable members of society,” she said.