State Briefs

Posted: Monday, July 22, 2002

AK unemployment up slightly

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's unemployment rate rose in June. The overall jobless rate throughout the state rose to 6.3 percent - up from 5.8 percent in May.

The national rate also rose last month from 5.5 percent to 6 percent. The number of unemployed Alaskans rose by 2,227 in June to 21,429.

The state's three largest cities - Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau - all saw increases in unemployment. Most areas of the state with a heavy concentration of tourism businesses saw a drop in their jobless rates, including the Denali Borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Haines Borough.

Areas of the state with a heavy dependence on fishing saw an increase in the unemployment rate, including Kodiak and Dillingham.

Coast Guard helps whale

JUNEAU - A whale tangled in a crab pot line near Ketchikan on Sunday was freed by crew members from the Coast Guard cutter Anacapa.

A National Marine Fisheries Service official asked for assistance and the Anacapa launched its small rescue boat. Crew hooked the line entangling the humpback with a boat hook and tied to cut it. The attempt failed because the whale started breaching and tangled itself more, the Coast Guard said.

The crew then attached a knife to the boat hook and succeeded in setting the whale free. Lt. Stephen White, commanding officer of the Anacapa, said the whale appeared uninjured and swam away after it was freed.

In a similar incident, a whale tangled in crab pot lines was cut free by a lodge caretaker and a camper about 10 days ago near Taku Inlet.

Pepper spray causes evacuation

ANCHORAGE - The main concourse at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was evacuated briefly Sunday after a security guard's can of pepper spray accidentally discharged.

Some people reported a burning sensation in their throat but no one was injured in the incident, said Greg Warren, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration in Washington, D.C.

Airport officials brought in fans to clear the air and the concourse was reopened a short time later.

Man dies in highway rollover

ANCHORAGE - An Eagle River man died Saturday in a rollover accident on the Glenn Highway. Joshua Nagunst, 20, was southbound in a pickup truck about 7:50 a.m. when the accident occurred, Anchorage police said.

Witnesses told police the truck was going about 65 mph in the left lane when it suddenly drifted into the center median.

The truck rolled over several times. Nagunst apparently was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected, police said.

Paramedics pronounced him dead en route to Alaska Regional Hospital.

Wildfire threatens Elliott Highway

ANCHORAGE - A wildfire is threatening the Elliott Highway in Alaska's Interior and the Alaska Fire Service was asking that travelers stay off the highway.

The Mile 79 Fire, which started May 23, flared up unexpectedly Sunday evening, said Priscilla Hammon, fire service spokeswoman.

"It's all this warm, dry weather mixed with a lovely wind blowing in the direction of the road," Hammon said. "It doesn't take much."

Neither the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, nor any homes or Native allotments are threatened. Fire crews checked on the fire three times on Saturday and deemed it inactive, she said.

But by Sunday evening a wind picked up and blew the fire into a thickly forested area. The fire has consumed 106,500 acres. Sunday evening a helicopter crew was dispatched to determine what equipment and which crews to put on the fire, she said.

Coast Guard rescues boaters

SEWARD - Three boaters in Resurrection Bay required Coast Guard assistance Sunday afternoon after their 16-foot skiff took on water and began to sink, the Coast Guard said.

Boat owner Darol Owen of Wasilla and passengers Swanee Swain and Mark Lee managed to beach the skiff but heavy wind and waves prevented a park ranger vessel, a Coast Guard auxiliary boat and another boat from being able to safely rescue the men.

The Coast Guard launched a helicopter from Kodiak at 1:45 p.m. The men were flown back to Seward and required no medical assistance, the agency said.

Archive looks to expand

ANCHORAGE - The National Archives and Records Administration wants a new, bigger home in Anchorage.

It moved a step closer to that goal last week when a bill passed in the Senate Appropriations Committee containing Sen. Ted Stevens request for $3.75 million to buy land.

The current facility accepts only historical records. Alaska agencies have to send their newer documents to Seattle for temporary storage. The new center would house both temporary and permanent archives.

The money to purchase land is part of the Senate spending bill for the Treasury Department and other government agencies. After it passes in the Senate, it must be reconciled with the House version.

Last year, 3,450 visitors used the Anchorage facilities for microfilm research. Another 585 went to examine texts or photographs. A new location has not been chosen, archive officials said.

Man pleads innocent to murder

FAIRBANKS - A North Pole man has pleaded innocent to a charge of first-degree murder.

Ernest Elizardo, 27, is accused of shooting 16-year-old Jenny Cullen in the head July 9.

Alaska State Troopers initially thought the shooting was an accident. But after further investigation they arrested Elizardo. Troopers are still investigating the incident and will not discuss details of the shooting or a possible motive.

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