Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, November 06, 2003

FBI investigates Nome killing of 19-year-old

ANCHORAGE - The FBI is investigating whether federal laws were violated in the killing of Sonya Ivanoff, a 19-year-old Nome resident who was shot to death in August.

The FBI wants to find out whether a civil rights violation occurred, said FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez.

Matthew C. Owens, a Nome police officer at the time Ivanoff died, faces a state charge of first-degree murder in the case. The young woman was found dead in a gravel pit on the outskirts of Nome on Aug. 13. She died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

According to the FBI, it is a violation of federal law for anyone acting under authority of the law, such as a police officer or other government official, to illegally deprive another person of any right protected by the U.S. Constitution or laws of the United States. If such behavior is alleged, the FBI has the authority to investigate.

Owens, who has since been fired from the department, is accused of picking her up in his patrol car and killing her. He is being held at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome in lieu of $500,000 bail.

A person convicted of violating another person's civil rights in a case in which a death occurs can be sentenced to life in prison or death, Gonzalez said.

Survey finds sharp drop in youth smoking

ANCHORAGE - A health survey found that smoking among Alaska's high school students has fallen dramatically in the past eight years.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that smoking among Alaska's high school students has fallen almost 50 percent.

The survey was completed last spring in 38 high schools among almost 1,500 students. It showed the percentage of high school teens who reported smoking once in the past month fell from 37 to 19 since the last survey, in 1995.

Gov. Frank Murkowski said Tuesday at Romig Middle School in Anchorage that he might recommend that the Legislature increase Alaska's tobacco tax.

The Legislature in 1997 raised the tobacco tax 71 cents a pack, to a dollar. One of the main arguments for doing so was to make it harder for young people to buy tobacco.

At the time, Alaska had the highest state tobacco tax in the nation. Now it is 12th highest, according to the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, a private advocacy group. The state with the highest tobacco tax is New Jersey, charging $2.05 per pack.

Now, 49 percent of Alaska Native female teens and 40 percent of Alaska Native male teens say they've smoked at least once during the previous month. That's down since 1995, but it's far higher than the current 13 percent for white Alaska teens.

Jerry Hood ousted as Teamsters head

ANCHORAGE - Teamsters Local 959 members have ousted longtime secretary-treasurer Jerry Hood and replaced him with challenger Mike Kenny.

Unofficial results Tuesday showed Kenny leading with 1,107 votes, 53.4 percent, to 965 votes, or 45.6 percent for Hood. About 4,500 Teamsters were eligible to vote in the election.

Hood told KTUU-TV that his defeat may reflect a trend of Alaska voters to turn out incumbents.

Hood also said that Gov. Frank Murkowski's record since he took office could have reflected poorly on him. Hood and the Teamsters endorsed Murkowski last year.

Kenny, 56, grew up in the Midwest and moved to Alaska in 1970.

He has been a Teamster since 1974 and spent 19 years as a union construction surveyor.

Since 1992, he was worked as a union business representative negotiating and policing contracts and helping members with problems on the job.

Hood is a former Democratic National Committee member who campaigned for development projects in Alaska, including petroleum drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a proposed natural gas pipeline.

When Hood switched parties to campaign for Frank Murkowski in his gubernatorial bid and led the Teamsters in endorsing him, it displeased some members, Kenny said.

Vitamin D deficiencies found in Alaska children

FAIRBANKS - Deficiencies in vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin - are not uncommon among children in Alaska, a pediatrician and medical epidemiologist said.

Alaska's sunlight comes in at an angle so that much of the light is absorbed by the atmosphere before it reaches the ground, said Dr. Brad Gessner.

"Even during the peak summer months, there is not enough sunlight up here to get enough vitamin D from the sun," he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics last month showed that 11 percent of children ages 6 to 23 months were found to have abnormally low levels of vitamin D. About 20 percent tested were lower than normal, Gessner said.

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