Posted: Monday, December 11, 2000

Tug sinking under investigation

JUNEAU - Two tugs were reported sunk Saturday morning at the Whitestone logging dock on Long Island just southeast of Hoonah.

The OB-1, 57 feet, and the Rocona II, 67 feet, were reported sunk about 9:30 a.m., said Lt. Cecil McNutt of the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office. The OB-1 was refloated early Sunday afternoon.

Absorbent boom was positioned around the area of the sinking to contain any oil, but so far there has been only a slight sheen.

"The tugs were tied for the night. We think the Rocona II sank first and pulled down the OB-1," McNutt said. "We don't know exactly why she sank, but we are hoping to raise her today." He suspects a water line inside the tug "let loose, and that filled the boat up; it isn't uncommon."

Whitestone Logging Inc. could not be reached for comment. McNutt said the company normally shuts down for the month of December.

Two injured in Friday accident

JUNEAU - A 35-year-old woman is in satisfactory condition in a Seattle hospital today after being injured in a Friday crash on Egan Drive inbound near Sunny Point. Kimberly L. Potopinski, a passenger in one of the two vehicles, was flown to Harborview Medical Center for treatment of facial fractures.

The driver, Robert Riggs Jr., 23, suffered head and chest injuries and was admitted to Bartlett Regional Hospital's critical care unit for observation of a cardiac contusion. Riggs was discharged Saturday in good condition, said spokeswoman Marijo Toner.

The two-vehicle accident was reported to police at 10:43 p.m. Friday. The vehicles involved were a 1988 Plymouth and a 1997 Subaru. Both were totaled and towed from the scene.

Investigation revealed the Subaru was parked and unoccupied on the right shoulder, and the Plymouth struck its rear. Both cars came to rest in the ditch, said police. Alcohol is a suspected factor in the accident and investigation is continuing, Lt. Tom Porter said today.

Avalanche kills snowmachiner in Denali

CANTWELL - A Fairbanks snowmachiner died Saturday when he was hit by a 300-foot-wide avalanche and buried under 4 feet of compacted snow, according to officials of Denali National Park and Preserve, where the death occurred.

James Thompson was buried for only about 15 minutes before friends dug him out, but they could not revive him despite performing CPR for about an hour, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Thompson, 44, was riding with a group near Easy Pass, west of Cantwell, and was well into the wilderness area of the park that's closed to snowmachines, according to Jane Tranel, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

One of his friends went highmarking up a narrow ravine and got bogged down, Tranel said. Thompson followed and helped his friend dig out the machine and get headed back down. But as Thompson started to follow, a huge avalanche came loose from the slope and swept Thompson down the ravine. The avalanche occurred sometime between 1:30 and 2 p.m., according to troopers.

Vandalism spree hits Tee Harbor area

JUNEAU - Sixteen vehicles were vandalized late Friday or early Saturday from Mile 14 to Mile 21 of Glacier Highway.

The Juneau Police Department began receiving complaints of vandalism at 8:39 a.m. Saturday from residents in the Tee Harbor vicinity. When officers responded and began investigating, they found 16 vehicles involved, many of which had had contents removed, said Capt. Tom Porter.

"Damage (to the vehicles) is estimated at $6,100," Porter said, "and stolen property at $350. Of course, those are only estimates." Contents missing included compact disks and reflectors.

Fingerprints and footprints were found at the scene, Porter said. "We are requesting citizens with information about these crimes to call JPD (586-0600) or Crime Line (586-4243)," Porter said.

Attorney's illness postpones trial

JUNEAU - The murder trial of Ronald Smith and Rey Joel Soto was postponed this morning because of the illness of Smith's lawyer, public defender Darrel Gardner of Anchorage. Gardner is suffering from laryngitis, said Soto's attorney, Michael O'Brien, as he left the courtroom.

"There will be a hearing at 4 p.m. today to decide if we continue tomorrow," O'Brien added.

Smith and Soto are charged with murder in the beating death of Kenneth Ike Thomas, a death that occurred Jan. 26, the day after the state alleges a robbery took place at the trailer on Village Street where Thomas lived.

When word spread Friday afternoon that defendant Soto was about to testify, the courtroom quickly filled to standing room only. After Soto left the stand, Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks took the assembled audience to task twice for behavior during the testimony.

"To the extent that people say things or make facial expressions that might influence the jury, or make gestures of agreeing or disagreeing, I will ask an officer to remove that person from the courtroom," Weeks said. "I understand that (this case) is emotional for people behind the bar as well as in front of the bar, but if you display those emotions, you cannot stay."

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