Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2006

Togiak to vote on ending alcohol ban

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ANCHORAGE - A southwestern Alaska village will vote Tuesday on whether to end its 24-year prohibition on alcohol.

A group of elders, young people, and the lone police officer in the Bristol Bay village of Togiak said lifting the ban will cause more crime.

"It'll pretty much be nonstop drinking," said Bill Ferris, the police officer in the village of 780 mostly Yup'ik residents.

Laws banning alcohol haven't deterred bootleggers, Ferris said. They bring in alcohol daily on planes, snowmachines and fishing boats from the city of Dillingham 67 miles to the east. When fishing is good or welfare checks arrive, drinkers slap down $150 for a 750-milliliter bottle of R&R whiskey, he said. It's $11 in Anchorage.

Ferris said alcohol leads to crime and bad decisions. He said he has witnessed several suicides and attempted suicides that he believes were caused by alcohol.

Fort Wainwright soldier dies in Iraq

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A soldier who graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has died during combat in Mosul, Iraq, his family said.

Lt. John Shaw Vaughan, 23, assigned to the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, died Wednesday, his uncle, Dick Shaw said.

The military didn't release Vaughan's name, but Alaska military officials confirmed a soldier was killed by small-arms fire in Mosul on Wednesday while conducting a dismounted patrol.

Vaughn, a platoon leader, had participated in the ROTC program at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and had received his officer's commission after graduation last year.

"He was just always an outdoorsman and loved the military," said his mother, Sarah Vaughan. "From the time he was a boy, it was just his dream."

Bootleggers have stolen seized liquor on numerous occasions from the police station, he said.

Togiak Mayor Gary Carlos blames prohibition for binge drinking. He said people guzzle bottles of liquor to hide evidence, but would drink moderately and more safely if alcohol is legal.

"You can't legislate that away," Carlos said. "People will get it if they want it."

Carlos said he originally supported outlawing liquor in 1982, when the village passed the ban by a vote of 96-23. But he listed an array of problems he believes have been caused by the ban.

Snowmachiners desperate for a drink have died on marathon booze runs to Dillingham, including three in one incident in the 1980s, he said. Boaters suspected of drinking have fallen overboard and drowned, including two in the last five years, he said.

Togiak is one of 81 villages that have voted to go dry under state laws implemented in the 1980s giving villages the power to regulate alcohol. Another 20 are "damp," meaning alcohol can be imported but not sold.

Communities regularly debate whether to change their status. Voters in the Yukon River village of Nulato will decide July 11 if they should open a community-run liquor store.

Officials with the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board couldn't name any dry villages that have gone wet in recent years. Shageluk and Kakhonak in Southwest Alaska are the only two dry villages that have gone damp in the last five years.


Information from: Anchorage Daily News,

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