State Briefs

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2002

Local woman, cat on nationwide TV

JUNEAU - The story of a Mendenhall Valley woman being reunited with her long-lost cat will air on the Lifetime cable TV network Saturday.

The program "Beyond Chance" filmed a re-enactment of the reunion of Judy Nelson and her cat, Sugar, at their home last summer. The story will be one segment of the program airing at 10 p.m. Saturday on Channel 28 in Juneau.

While Nelson was out of town in August of 1998 and Sugar was staying with family friends, the cat ran away. They were reunited after someone spotted a photo of Sugar that Nelson had on her wall and realized it looked like a stray cat they had been caring for for about two years.

Nationwide coverage of the nature of Sugar's return brought the story to the attention of "Beyond Chance" producers. The program focuses on unusual coincidences as well as psychic and paranormal topics.

Research rocket launch lights skies

FAIRBANKS - Rockets launched from the Poker Flat Research Range early Thursday left luminous green streaks and curls in the sky.

The four rockets, part of an experiment studying wind and turbulence in the upper atmosphere, were launched in rapid succession starting at about 12:55 a.m. Thursday, according to the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The first rocket carried instruments to measure turbulence in the atmosphere. It landed south of the Brooks Range, where scientists will travel to recover it.

The next three rockets released trails of trimethyl aluminum as they traveled through the atmosphere. The chemical glows when it contacts oxygen, hence the greenish trails in the sky.

Researchers and assistants stationed at Poker Flat, Coldfoot and Fort Yukon photographed the trails, which offered visual indications of the wind in the upper atmosphere. Scientists will compare the photographs with the data gathered by the first rocket.

Troopers seize pot

WASILLA - Alaska State Troopers confiscated 243 marijuana plants from a home in Meadow Lakes, near Wasilla.

Troopers responded to the home at about 2 a.m. Wednesday when someone at the home called 911 and then hung up.

When troopers got to the home they found a large, hydroponic commercial marijuana-growing operation in the basement of the home. The largest plant was more than 9 feet tall, troopers said.

Troopers also found processed marijuana and associated growing equipment. The estimated street value of the plants is $486,000.

The man and woman living at the home were not arrested, but troopers have forwarded charges to the district attorney's office.

Large hospital contract awarded

FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks company was awarded a contract to help build a modern replacement for 51-year-old Bassett Army Community Hospital.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded GHEMM Construction Co., and a national company, Dick Pacific Corp., the $178.3 million contract to construct the new hospital.

The project is scheduled to be completed in 2006, giving Interior active-duty soldiers, their dependents and retired military members a more modern health care facility.

"Not often does a project of this size come to this area," said Bert Bell, president of GHEMM Construction Co.

Work on the proposed 259,500-square-foot building can start this spring. So far, $3.8 million has been spent on design.

The new facility will have 32 beds, down from the roughly 200 now at the Bassett. The reduction reflects the shift of medical care to preventive medicine and outpatient care.

Congress had appropriated $133 million for the construction of the replacement hospital and demolition of the old hospital. But Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, who has said the hospital is essential to Fort Wainwright's survival, secured an additional $82 million for the project.

Nenana man found guilty of murder

FAIRBANKS - A Nenana man was found guilty Wednesday of murder in the shooting death of a Nenana trapper last year.

Mark Andrews, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and two counts of second-degree theft in connection with the death of John "Mackie" Burk on Jan. 14, 2001.

Because the murder was committed in the course of a robbery, it carries an automatic 99-year sentence. Andrews will be sentenced on June 3.

Andrews waived his right to a jury trial. Superior Court Judge Charles Pengilly handed down his verdict immediately following three days of testimony.

Burk, 66, was shot to death through the front door of his Nenana cabin. Darin Nathaniel, 19, of Minto was also charged in the incident. Nathaniel is serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted on a count of second-degree murder as part of a plea agreement. Nathaniel agreed he would testify at Andrews' trial.

Nathaniel told the court Andrews masterminded the crime, stealing a pair of shotguns and some ammunition from another Nenana home before heading to Burk's cabin.

"We went to his place, we knocked on the door ... he answered the door and that's when (Andrews) let off four shots," he said.

Expert crime-scene witnesses backed up Nathaniel's story. Evidence showed Burk was shot once when the door was open before the gun was fired three more times through the metal door. Nathaniel said his gun was never loaded and he stayed outside while Andrews entered the cabin and emerged with a few beers and a drawer.

"There were a few papers in there and a bunch of loose change," he said.

Testimony at the trial suggested that the perpetrator may have been looking for something more. Current Nenana Police Chief Milt Haken and former chief Wayne Walters said Burk had a reputation as a drug dealer.

An Alaska State Trooper investigator said more than $10,000 worth of small packages of cocaine had been discovered hidden in Burk's home after the murder.

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