Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Mendenhall Glacier trails closed after brown bear charges hikers

JUNEAU - The Juneau Ranger District has closed a section of trails near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center because an aggressive brown bear sow with cub has charged several hikers in the area.

The Ranger District closed a portion of the Trail of Time that crosses Steep Creek near the Visitor Center on Monday, an area where bears feed on salmon.

The sow and cub have been frequenting trails near the Visitor Center and Dredge Lakes area, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The trails will remain closed until the bears leave the area, District Ranger Pete Griffin said in a prepared statement. More trails may be closed if necessary, Griffin said.

"Living with bears is something those of us who live here can get complacent about," Griffin said. "We need to remember these are wild animals whose need for food and defense of young often outweigh their usual fear of humans."

Griffin recommended hikers to use caution on trails as brown bears are occasionally sighted on trails during this time of year.

He also advised hikers to stay in groups, make noise while hiking to prevent surprising bears and stay on the trails. Griffin also noted that hikers should keep pets on a leash or leave them at home.

Initiative supporters gather signatures for term limits

ANCHORAGE - Supporters of an initiative seeking to change how Alaska fills unexpired terms in the U.S. Senate were expected to pick up petition booklets at 3 p.m. Monday.

The clock is running for the group Trust the People after a Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered Lt. Gov. Loren Leman to certify the initiative.

Judge Mark Rindner ordered that booklets for signatures be ready by the close of business Monday. Karen Compton, ballot initiative coordinator for Trust the People, said Sunday she was told she could pick them up at 3 p.m.

If voters approve, the initiative would allow unexpired U.S. Senate terms of 2 1/2 years or less to be filled by special election rather than by gubernatorial appointment. Sponsors filed the initiative application after Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to the U.S. Senate seat he vacated last year.

Compton said she'll brief signature gatherers and a few will immediately start collecting names.

"They won't be out at 3:01, but they'll be out Monday night," Compton said. Compton has a larger group of volunteers and professional gatherers lined up for today, she said, and the effort will expand to Palmer, Wasilla, Juneau, Fairbanks and other communities.

The group has until the first day of the 2004 Legislature to collect 23,286 signatures - 10 percent of the turnout in the last general election.

Murder charge against brother dismissed after DNA testing

KODIAK - A count of second-degree murder filed against a man accused of killing his brother in 1993 has been dropped because DNA evidence collected at the scene of the crime did not support the charge, the Kodiak district attorney said.

District Attorney J. Michael Gray said Monday he was dismissing the murder charge against Rolando Medina, who claimed he had been framed by another brother after being indicted by a grand jury here in 1998.

Carlos Medina, a 36-year-old Filipino national, was an up-and-coming businessman who had been missing for two days when his body was found on Kodiak Island's Pillar Mountain in May 1993. He had been beaten and his skull had been bashed in.

The state crime laboratory developed new evidence in the case using DNA testing technology that was not available during the initial investigation of the homicide more than 10 years ago.

"The new evidence became compelling enough that I would have an ethical problem pursuing the case against Rolando," Gray said at a news conference.

The crime lab re-examined evidence taken from the scene using information from a national database that indexes DNA profiles of convicted offenders.

Although the evidence does not exclude Rolando Medina, it clearly points in the direction of someone else, Gray said.

Police Sgt. Milton Bohac would not identify the new suspect or say if the person is in Kodiak.

Native woman hit by paintballs

ANCHORAGE - The mayor on Monday asked residents for help in identifying a carload of young white men believed to have fired paint balls at a Native woman as she walked along a city street.

The attack occurred at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday as Sonya Wharton, 19, walked to a friend's house after having an argument with the person who was supposed to drive her home.

Wharton described her assailants as three or four white males in a dark sedan, said police Lt. John Norsworthy. Investigators counted at least nine shots of green and yellow paint, including several that hit a nearby restaurant and a power pole, Norsworthy said.

Wharton said she hit the ground as two occupants in the car started firing, one from a rear window and one leaning across the driver to shoot out the front window. They shouted things like "Natives suck" and "Natives should die," she said.

No one else was on the street, Wharton said.

"I was terrified. I thought they were going to turn back around," she said.

Wharton said she has bruises on her shoulder and legs, including a nasty one on her thigh.

Police are pursuing the case as a hate crime, Norsworthy said.

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