State and local briefly

Posted: Tuesday, February 08, 2000

Trial set for two in beating death

JUNEAU - A trial date was set for Ronald Edward Smith and Rey Joel Soto, both charged with second-degree murder in the January beating death of Kenneth Thomas, 36.

In a hearing held Monday, Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks scheduled the trial of Smith, 33, and Soto, 20, for May 8. Attorneys Patrick Conheady and Michael O'Brien were appointed to represent the defendants. Assistant District Attorney Sue McLean represents the prosecution.

Security at the hearing was tighter than usual because of communication from Soto's mother, Amalia Lopez Santiago, claiming that members of her family in Juneau are being threatened by the Thomas family. Santiago is a former resident of Juneau who now resides in Puerto Rico.

Investigators still probing downtownfire

JUNEAU - The cause of the Jan. 30 fire in a six-plex under construction on Gastineau Avenue is still under investigation.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Fenster of investigations said today he had heard nothing new about the fire. The $600,000, two-story six-plex was considered totaled after the crackling hot fire which broke out about 6:30 a.m.

Neighbors heard a metallic banging sporadically issuing from the structure in the hours just before the blaze began, and the contractor said construction space heaters had been moved. The structure had only recently been roofed over. It is suspected that someone looking for a warm place to sleep caused the fire.

Anyone with information about the origins of the fire should call investigator Mike Tagaban at 586-2780.

Avalanches damage Valdez house

ANCHORAGE - A series of avalanches rolled into a Valdez residential area Monday, damaging one house. But authorities say the couple who lived there was away at the time and no one was injured.

The debris field at the house was about 100 feet across and 20 feet deep. The mountain had been throwing wet slab avalanches for days, and safety officials has warned residents about the danger.

The three-story dwelling received heavy structural damage to its first floor, police said.

The area was placed under a voluntary evacuation order and four of the 15 families in the neighborhood have moved back into their homes.

The high school also sits beneath the mountain, and a few slides hit the gymnasium but did no damage, Valdez police said.

Nikiski snowmachiner found dead

ANCHORAGE - A Nikiski man was found dead Monday after a snowmachine accident.

Todd Delaruelle, 34, was found shortly after 9 a.m. lying face down in a ditch under his snowmachine at Mile 20 of the Spur Highway in Soldotna, Alaska State Troopers said.

Delaruelle was last seen at about 8 p.m. Sunday at a Nikiski bar.

Investigators say Delaruelle was apparently trying to climb up the side of the 19-foot ditch when his snowmachine flipped over on top of him.

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