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2 tourists try to recover mushing trip losses

Posted: April 24, 2013 - 12:05am

FAIRBANKS — Two tourists from Georgia who went on a guided mushing trip in the White Mountains during which one of them got lost and suffered from severe hypothermia are frustrated in their legal fight to recoup losses.

Even though criminal charges were filed nine months ago, Todd Surloff and his wife, Chontica Tanapornsakul, said the case has yet to go to trial, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday.

Peggy Billingsley, 49, and Darrell Harpham, 48, of Fairbanks, have been charged with reckless endangerment.

Surloff said he can’t find out what is going on with the case and has been told he will have to pay his own way to Alaska to testify or the charges probably will be dropped.

“I’m extremely frustrated,” he said Monday by phone from Atlanta.

A status hearing scheduled for Tuesday was rescheduled for Thursday.

The two went on an overnight trip to a cabin in the White Mountains in March of last year. They say they barely survived the trip into the White Mountains National Recreation Area. They are trying to recoup $3,500 in medical costs to treat frostbite and severe hypothermia.

Harpham and Tanapornsakul each were mushing a team of dogs 20 miles back out to the Elliott Highway trailhead when Harpham became separated from Tanapornsakul, who had never mushed dogs before. Tanapornsakul got lost and was stranded on the trail for hours.

When Alaska State Troopers found her she was wearing only a light parka and was “barely breathing and unconscious” inside her sled about 5 miles from the trailhead. She was transported to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and treated for severe hypothermia and frostbite.

In charging documents filed in July, troopers said Harpham and Billingsley weren’t prepared and didn’t provide the tourists with the proper survival gear for the trip. The pair had never mushed dogs before coming to Alaska.

“If you’re a guide and you have one person to watch and you don’t know where they’ve been for 10 hours, you’ve failed,” Surloff said.

The public defender’s office in Fairbanks said it does not comment on pending cases.

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