Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, June 17, 2005

Mechanics close in on deal with AK Airlines

JUNEAU - Alaska Airlines reached a tentative agreement Thursday on a new four-year contract for the airline's 700 aircraft technicians.

Terms of Alaska's agreement with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association are being withheld until it is ratified by a union member vote, which is expected within the next two weeks.

Louie Key, AMFA region director, said in a news release that the proposal provides job security language and wage increases. AMFA represents personnel at Alaska Airlines, ATA, Horizon Airlines, Independence Airlines, Mesaba Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Air Lines.

Alaska Chief Executive Officer Bill Ayer said the agreement is a win for both parties.

Trailer fire put out in Switzer Village

JUNEAU - Capital City Fire and Rescue crews Wednesday night put out a Switzer Village Mobile Home Park trailer fire that appeared to have been sparked by a cigarette.

Firefighters found the blaze on the front porch upon arrival at about 11 p.m. A neighbor had already used a dry chemical extinguisher on it, and a hose team put it out.

Capt. Beth Weldon reported that aside from fire damage on the porch, there was light smoke damage in the trailer, which was ventilated. There were no injuries, she reported.

Weldon said firefighters suspect the fire was started with a discarded cigarette.

ACLU wants note on medical pot legitimacy

JUNEAU - The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska wants state Attorney General David Marquez to publicly acknowledge the legitimacy of the state's medical marijuana program.

The request comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion maintaining the federal government's authority to arrest users and suppliers of the drug. On June 6, the day the decision was issued, Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones said the attorney general was considering suspending Alaska's registration program.

The ACLU of Alaska sent a letter to the attorney general's office Thursday requesting a clarification.

"Alaska's medical marijuana law remains entirely legitimate and is in no way affected by the court's ruling ...," ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Michael Macleod-Ball contended in a statement. "Attorney General Marquez should publicly acknowledge this fact at the earliest opportunity. Patients in need of medical marijuana treatment have enough to worry about without unfounded threats from the state's highest-ranking law enforcement officer."

Morones said Thursday the state still is reviewing the statute.

"I have not heard anything on it yet," Morones said. "At some point we will probably have a decision."

Alaska marksmen suffer lead exposure

ATLANTA - As Alaska school rifle teams were pumping targets full of lead, levels of the dangerous chemical were rising inside young shooters, a government health agency said Thursday.

Alaska health authorities found elevated lead levels in the blood of students ages 7 to 19 at four of five indoor firing ranges that were investigated. Three of the ranges had inadequate ventilation systems, officials from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The investigation started after testing revealed a high school shooting-team coach had high lead levels in his blood in January 2002.

Even small amounts of lead exposure can have "deleterious" effects on children ages 6 to 16 and firing ranges have been recognized as potential sources of lead exposure since the 1970s, the CDC said. The agency recommended that firing ranges be properly ventilated and children who use such ranges should be regularly tested for lead.

Alaska epidemiologist Beth Funk declined to identify the shooting ranges.

Ex-Nome cop accused of violating release

NOME - A former Nome police officer whose trial for murder ended in a hung jury has violated a condition of his release, officials said Thursday.

After Superior Court Judge Ben Esch declared a mistrial in Owens' trial earlier this year in the killing of 19-year-old Sonya Ivanoff, Owens was released on the condition that he remain in the presence of his court-approved third party custodians 24 hours a day.

Court papers filed Thursday in Nome say Owens violated that agreement and request that he be re-arrested.

Owens was observed by a Nome Police Department dispatcher last Thursday in a white vehicle he often drives with a young female as his passenger, according to a statement given to Alaska State Troopers. Dispatcher LaVerne Ashenfelter told troopers she thought the girl was about 15 years old. She said Owens and the girl were the only two people in the vehicle.

Ashenfelter said she has seen Owens driving the white Suburban before and he has always been with one of his third-party custodians. This time, instead of staring her down like he usually does, Ashenfelter said he only looked at her briefly.

Owens' third-party custodians are his mother, an uncle and a friend.

A jury deadlocked Feb. 28 on whether Owens shot and killed Ivanoff in August 2003. During the trial, Owens took the witness stand and denied killing the young woman. Prosecutors have said they intend to retry him.

North Slope to end Barrow's bus service

BARROW - After this month, the North Slope Borough is shutting down Barrow's public bus service, leaving residents without a low-cost ride to work or errands.

Borough officials said the borough can no longer afford to subsidize the service.

Plus the ridership is low and doesn't compensate for the cost of maintenance and operations, said Dennis Packer, a chief administrative officer in borough Mayor George Ahmaogak's office.

The weekend bus service was cut a year ago.

Mike Janousek, a longtime borough mechanic and bus driver, said he wanted to privatize the service but was told he couldn't do that at this time.

The borough has told affected employees they'll get first shot at jobs they're eligible for.

Janousek said he knows of two workers who will be absorbed back into the borough system.

The end of affordable rides was bad news for regular bus users, including Joe and Mary Jane Ahkivgak, who have four sons.

The couple told KBRW Radio that they don't have other way to get across town to the post office and the grocery store.

The borough and other agencies have been meeting to explore solutions.

Debra Lyn, special assistant to the city mayor, said the city is not interested in assuming the bus service.

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