Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2007

Suspicious envelope leads to lockdown

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ANCHORAGE - A suspicious powder in a threatening letter was delivered to the state attorney general's office and officials said the substance was apparently harmless.

The mysterious white powder forced a nearly five-hour lockdown of the Brady Building in downtown Anchorage on Friday. About 200 quarantined workers were allowed to leave the area about 4:30 p.m.

An employee opened the envelope late Friday morning, just before many workers were about to go to lunch, said Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton.

"In this case, they made the decision to isolate the substance and lock the area down so there wasn't a chance it could contaminate another area," he said.

Borough mulls ending emissions testing

FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly rejected a move to end the borough's emissions testing program for cars and trucks by the end of next year.

However, borough air quality director Glenn Miller said he believes the program could safely disappear in around two years.

The city of Anchorage also is considering scrapping its program that requires drivers to get their cars tested for excessive emissions once every two years.

The North Star Borough Assembly vote followed a recommendation from the borough's I/M and Air Pollution Control Commission that local officials follow the borough's lead. The borough has reviewed the emissions testing program critically since public discontent sparked a special election three years ago.

Miller said ending the program, if rushed, could place the borough in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

I/M commission Chairman Michael Pollen said a commission meeting this week on the issue drew comments from 16 people, some of whom wanted the program to end soon. But Pollen also said the borough has developed a solid relationship with environmental regulators that could help erase the program.

Drunken driver gets probation in fatality

FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks woman involved in a fatal car crash two years ago has lost her driver's license for two years.

Faith Derendoff, 32, also was fined $4,000 at her sentencing hearing Thursday in connection with the May 2005 crash that killed 18-year-old Andrew Coker of North Pole. Superior Court Judge Robert Downes said Derendoff also must spend the next five years on probation and volunteer for an organization such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Derendoff was intoxicated and high on drugs when Coker ran a stop sign and drove into her path on Danby Road in May 2005, authorities said. Derendoff crashed into the driver's side of Coker's Saturn sedan.

The state pursued charges against Derendoff associated with Coker's death for two years, but a video of the crash made the prosecution difficult. It showed Coker missing the stop sign and placing himself in harm's way.

A judge dismissed the case, but another grand jury reindicted her and she went on trial earlier this year.

A jury acquitted Derendoff of manslaughter but deadlocked on a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide. Prosecutors dropped that charge earlier this month, reducing the case to one charge, misdemeanor drunken driving.

Downes said he wondered whether the crash would have had a different outcome if Derendoff's reflexes had not been dulled by the alcohol, marijuana and cocaine found in her system.

"Would Mr. Coker be alive?" the judge asked.

Derendoff's attorney, Paul Canarsky, said his client has completed drug treatment and is a full-time student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Tanana Valley Campus.

Panel sentences sniper to five months

BAGHDAD - A military panel on Saturday sentenced an Alaska-based Army sniper to five months in prison, a reduction in rank and forfeiture of pay for planting evidence in connection with the deaths of two Iraqi civilians.

Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, 22, was acquitted of murder charges in the April and May deaths of two unidentified men. The panel decided he was guilty of a lesser charges of placing detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look as if the man was an insurgent.

"I feel fortunate that I have been served this sentence," Sandoval said. "I'm grateful that I'm able to continue to be in the Army."

Because he will receive credit for time served and good behavior, Sandoval must now spend 44 more days behind bars before he can return to his unit, his lawyer said. His rank will be reduced to private and he will forfeit his pay for the period of confinement.

The prosecution had argued Sandoval should be sentenced to five years in prison.

Sandoval, of Laredo, Texas, had faced five charges in the deaths of the two unidentified Iraqi men. In dramatic testimony during the two-day court-martial, Sandoval's colleagues testified they were following orders when they shot the men during two separate incidents near Iskandariyah, a volatile Sunni-dominated area 30 miles south of Baghdad, on April 27 and May 11.

Sgt. Evan Vela and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley are both charged in the case and will be tried separately. All three soldiers are part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

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