Alaska Digest

Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2005

Vehicle found before owner notices it's gone

JUNEAU - Police arrested a Juneau man early Sunday in a vehicle they later determined was stolen.

Michael Johnson, 21, was charged with drunken driving at about 1 a.m., police reported. Officers determined that the 1997 Ford pickup he was driving had been stolen from a Mendenhall Valley residence, although the owner had not yet noticed it missing.

Police said they determined it was stolen when they contacted the owner to ask if Johnson had permission to drive it.

The vehicle's keys had been hidden inside the passenger compartment, police reported. Officers advise against hiding keys inside vehicles because the practice gives someone breaking into a car the ability to drive it away.

4 more indicted on attempted jailbreak

FAIRBANKS - A grand jury has indicted four more people on charges they were part of an attempted prison break with a front-end loader, bringing the list of suspects to six.

Indicted last week were Deanna J. Eldridge, 23; Hank T. Walker, 49; Randy D. Watson, 29; and James C. Willis, 18. All have North Pole addresses, except Eldridge, whose address was listed in Fairbanks.

"We've got the case wrapped up," said Lantz Dahlke, a sergeant with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation. "It was a lot of legwork and research and looking into things. Now it's just all pending the outcome of the trials."

Walker and Watson are in jail. Warrants were issued for Eldridge and Willis.

The other two suspects are Misty Hoffman, 28, and Joseph Gillespie, 24, who were identified early in the investigation and arrested days after the Nov. 20 attempted prison break.

According to troopers, a Kawasaki front-end loader was stolen from University Redi Mix. Suspects drove the loader to Fairbanks Correctional Center, where at about 1:30 a.m., they plowed down two fences and rammed the prison's wall two or three times.

Behind the wall, an estimated 220 prisoners were locked in their cells. Most were asleep.

One suspect may have carried a handgun for Watson, the inmate whom the others were trying to free.

After failing to knock down the wall, the suspects drove the loader to a nearby Super 8 Motel, They parked the machine and fled.

Drivers raise funds for Parkinson's research

ANCHORAGE - A California software engineer and other drivers will depart Anchorage on Tuesday for the North Slope in the latest leg of a round-the-world trip to raise money for Parkinson's disease research.

Nick Baggarly, executive director the nonprofit organization Around the World, are nearing the homestretch of an around-the-world trip begun in November 2003.

The drivers will leave in four Land Rovers that already have covered 40,000 miles of the world's roadways in more than 30 countries since November 2003.

Baggarly, 36, has circled the Earth in Land Rovers before, for adventure and learning and to spread goodwill.

In late 1999, Baggarly returned home from driving around the globe to learn that his older sister, then 32, had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. At the same time, another member of his 1999 team learned that the man's father also had been diagnosed with the incurable movement disorder.

Baggarly's wife, Chanda, eventually suggested they again drive around the world to raise money for research.

"This whole journey is a creative response to helplessness," he said Thursday by phone from California.

The money will go to the Parkinson's Institute in Sunnyvale, Calif., a research and clinical facility from whose parking lot the four Land Rovers began their trek nearly 15 months ago.

The team plans to end its trip their late next month after driving to Deadhorse, and if members can get permission, through Prudhoe Bay's oil fields.

So far, Baggarly said, the nine travelers have raised more than $75,000 through pledges, donations and raffle proceeds.

The expedition is funded through numerous corporate donations and sponsorship, plus the members' own money.

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