Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, April 11, 2005

Convicted kidnapper is tending children

WASILLA - As an unemployed 21-year-old in 1989, Patrick Goecke and another man kidnapped for ransom a 4-month-old baby girl from her affluent parents' North Kenai home.

Authorities discovered the girl, safe and abandoned in a pickup at the Nikiski Mall, less than two hours later.

As a stay-at-home dad, Goecke two years ago started a small day-care operation out of his family's neat, well-lit home just north of Wasilla.

But his past came back to bite the 37-year-old in mid-March.

That's when Wasilla police Investigator Ruthan Josten received an anonymous tip that included a reference to Goecke's felony kidnapping conviction in 1990, but also included new allegations of various problems at his Westwood Weeones business, including milk spilled on an infant's head and another infant confined too long in a stroller.

A statement issued earlier this week by the Alaska State Troopers created a flurry of media reports about the allegations, about the kidnapping conviction and about the fact that Goecke operates without a state day-care license.

State officials say the case illustrates an important point for parents: It's legal in Alaska to run a day care with just a business license as long as the provider cares for fewer than five children who aren't relatives.

There are more than 65 licensed day-care providers of all sizes in Southcentral.

State licenses require background checks, as well as regular unannounced inspections. Convicted kidnappers, along with others who committed felonies against people, are permanently barred from being issued a state day-care license without a variance applied case by case, said Mary Lorence, the state's Anchorage-based child-care program manager.

If he had applied for the state license, a background check would have revealed his conviction, making it impossible for him to run a day care, unless he obtained an individual variance from state rules barring kidnappers from getting such licenses, said Lorence.

Unless Goecke has a state license, parents have no easy way to check into his background or know that his day-care facility is regularly inspected, Lorence said.

Museum requests funding for expansion

FAIRBANKS - Supporters of the University of Alaska Museum of the North are looking to Interior lawmakers for financial assistance for the delayed expansion project.

The volunteer Museum Advisory Council is asking for $3.5 million in state funding for the museum located on the UA Fairbanks campus. The council, which is independent from the university, made the request in a letter last week.

Council chair Mike Cook said a boost from the state would replace a $3.5 million loan authorized for the museum expansion by the UA Board of Regents in December. Paying off the loan "would be a huge disadvantage to the situation" as the expansion project progresses, Cook said.

The requested appropriation is not meant to hasten completion of the expansion project, which has been delayed by disputes between the university and general contractor Alaska Mechanical Inc.

The council's request comes as the Legislature nears the May 10 end of its regular session. That timing doesn't give the request a great chance, said Senate Finance Committee Co-chair Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks.

Launched in June 2002, the expansion project will double the museum's size to 81,000 square feet and add a larger collection area, an art gallery, an auditorium, a larger gift shop and a "learning area" for young visitors.

Report: Light therapy can boost energy

ANCHORAGE - A regular dose of high-intensity light during dark winter months actually does work as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder, researchers say.

Light therapy also may be as effective as medication for major depression, according to an analysis published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The report, commissioned by the American Psychiatric Association, supports the perception that 20 to 40 minutes of proper exposure to sufficient levels of intense light can boost energy and lighten moods during the season with sparse sunshine.

The findings were based on a statistical analysis of 20 studies previously reported in scientific and medical journals over the past 20 years. Another 153 studies were rejected by the authors as too flawed or poorly designed to produce scientifically reliable results.

For reasons that scientists are still trying to understand, the lack of sunlight in winter causes some people to become depressed, lose energy and concentration, crave carbohydrates and seek extra sleep time. Studies have found that up to 9 percent of Alaskans suffer to some extent from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, each winter.

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