Judge disqualifies self in sexual assault case
JUNEAU - The attorney for a man charged with two counts of sexually assaulting the mother of his son entered a not-guilty plea to all nine charges against him.
However, Harold L. Wheaton Jr. didn't get a chance for the bail-reduction hearing his attorney had sought. Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Collins disqualified herself from the case after defense attorney Jeffrey Sauer stated the full name of the alleged victim, who had only been identified by initials in the indictment.
"I am positive I represented the victim many years ago when I was still in private practice," Collins said. Her previous association with the accuser could affect her decisions in the case, she added.
The name came up while Sauer was beginning his argument seeking to reduce Wheaton's $50,000 bail. "We are arguing that the charges are false charges and he is about to lose his job because of those," Sauer said. Alluding to the woman's criminal record, he alleged that she is manipulating the system in an attempt to gain custody of their 9-year-old child.
With Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks out this week, Collins said she would try to arrange a bail hearing today with a judge for Sitka or Ketchikan.
The grand jury indictment charges Wheaton with two first-degree sexual assaults, two kidnappings, third-degree assault, two misdemeanor fourth-degree assaults and two misdemeanor counts of interfering with a report of a domestic violence crime. The crimes allegedly occurred on July 9 and July 15.
Engine problem delays state ferry Matanuska
JUNEAU - The Alaska Marine Highway System Matanuska ferry ran about 10 hours behind schedule Wednesday because of a problem in one of the ship's engines, ferry officials said.
"The ship was en route from Haines to Skagway and they had to shut the starboard main engine down due to an overheating cylinder," said Jack Meyers, the operations manager for the system. The troubles, later attributed to an exhaust valve failure, began late Monday night. A tugboat was used to dock the ferry in Skagway.
The engine was repaired in Skagway, causing a five hour delay, then underwent further review by a technician from the engine manufacturer in Ketchikan on Wednesday, Meyers said.
Due to the delays, the Matanuska will not make its scheduled stops in Wrangell and Skagway. Passengers traveling to or from those points will be transferred to other vessels.
For a complete listing of the changes in the Matanuska's schedule, visit www.ferryalaska.com, or call 465-3941.
The Matanuska makes a regular loop connecting Skagway, Haines, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
State to seek offshore test wells near ANWR
JUNEAU - State officials hope to entice oil companies into drilling an offshore test well near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next winter.
The state Division of Oil and Gas is soliciting interest in a stratigraphic test well to be drilled in unleased state waters of the Beaufort Sea near the east portion of the coastal plain.
"The proposed well would be drilled where it is designed to maximize the recovery of information about a potential reservoir, not to gather oil," Gov. Frank Murkowski said in a statement released Wednesday.
The test well would be drilled in an area west of the village of Kaktovik near Angun Point, the state said. It could give companies important geologic data to aid in future exploration decisions about ANWR.
St. Michael voters go to polls for alcohol status
ANCHORAGE - Voters in St. Michael went to the polls Wednesday to decide whether to overturn the ban on alcohol it adopted 17 years ago.
The Norton Sound village of 380 will vote on whether to allow residents to possess alcohol. Sales of alcohol would still not be allowed.
Wednesday's vote was expected to be close. Lined up against it were St. Michael's elders, city authorities and other residents who remember what happened when the village went damp in spring 1986.
"My brother got shot and killed" by a drunken man during that five-month experiment, village Mayor Carl Otten told the Anchorage Daily News. "I'm just hoping the voters make the right choice."
Fairbanks pays less for gas than Anchorage
FAIRBANKS - Fairbanks motorists have long complained about paying more for gasoline than drivers in Anchorage, but this week the tables were turned.
Gas prices were lower in the Interior city, according to an informal survey. One Fairbanks station owner said this year is the first time in more than 20 years that's happened.
The Fairbanks News-Miner reported that the average price of gas at six stores in Fairbanks on Monday was seven or eight cents a gallon cheaper than at six stores in Anchorage.
The average price was $1.71 for the Anchorage stores' cheapest grade and $1.88 for the highest grade. Meanwhile, the cheapest grade at the Fairbanks stores cost $1.63, and the most expensive grades cost an average of $1.81.
More inlet sockeye qualify for brand name
JUNEAU - More than 100,000 pounds of Cook Inlet sockeye salmon have qualified for the Kenai Wild brand name in the second year of the program.
The organization Cook Inlet Salmon Branding provides inspections of fish caught in the inlet. Inspectors look at clarity and color of skin, evidence of careful handling and whether the fish are kept cold to preserve freshness.
Fish that pass muster receive the Kenai Wild brand and are then marketed to high-end salmon purveyors across the country. Board member Jack Brown said the organization inspected 216,000 pounds of whole fish this year, and certified about 108,000 pounds with the Kenai Wild brand.