Northwest Digest

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2005

Man rolls car, escapes injury

JUNEAU - A 33-year-old Juneau man was uninjured Sunday afternoon when his 2002 Toyota truck slid off the road near Eagle Beach, rolled over and landed on an embankment.

The truck was headed outbound when it hit a patch of ice on a shaded portion of the road. Police reached the scene at 2:17 p.m. and discovered the man in fine condition. There were no other passengers.

"He didn't require medical treatment," Juneau police officer Tom Bates said. "Officers gave him a ride home."

The man was cited for careless driving. The truck sustained $15,000 in damage and was towed.

Fairbanks looks at wellness courts

FAIRBANKS - Local officials who say jail time has not deterred chronic drunken drivers are using a $200,000 federal grant to study monitored treatment known as wellness courts.

Interior legislators and members of the Fairbanks North Star Borough plan to meet Monday to consider advantages of the model, already in use in Anchorage and elsewhere in the state.

Wellness courts involve judges, lawyers and probation officers - as well as experts in mental health and substance abuse - to fashion treatment for repeat offenders.

Sentencing is postponed for 18 months; defendants who succeed in treatment may see much of their jail time and fines waived.

State Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, said public defenders and prosecutors also would attend the meeting.

Ramras said wellness court judges dictate specifics of a rehabilitation program while assuring themselves that a defendant is not drinking.

"In our most serious driving while intoxicated cases, those with multiple offenses, it has become obvious that suspending their licenses, fining them and putting them in jail is not necessarily working," Ramras said.

A portion of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant has been set aside to operate a wellness court; Monday's meeting is a chance to consider if more money is needed and where it should be spent, said Borough Assemblyman Luke Hopkins.

Bowl maker targets fans of Rose Bowl

FAIRBANKS - There are wooden bowls for serving up salad. And then there's the Rose Bowl, one of college football's premier championships.

Fairbanks entrepreneur Lewis Bratcher has found a way to appeal to the endive and pigskin crowd alike by using a 3-D laser to etch his wooden bowls with the symbols of Texas and Southern Cal, next month's Rose Bowl matchup.

Bratcher is owner of the Great Alaskan Bowl Company, a Fairbanks company he began in the early 1990s.

To produce his Rose Bowl models, Bratcher started by etching "stitches" that resemble those found on footballs to the bottom of oval wooden bowls. The tough part turned out to be winning the rights to team logos.

Laser cutting will be a mainstay of his business, he predicts.

"It's a big step," said Bratcher, who walks his shop wearing dusty jeans and glasses hanging on a boot lace around his neck.

Two lasers in an upstairs room etch wooden bowls with everything from wedding photos to grizzly bears to basketballs. His first laser cost $30,000, Bratcher said.

A computer-programmed laser bounces light off mirrors to burn words and logos into curved wooden surfaces.

Bratcher imagines owning about a dozen machines eventually as interest in display bowls grows. He's already been approved to sell bowls with the logos of four university teams, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the universities of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Washington.

Gates launches early learning initiative

SEATTLE - The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to invest up to $90 million over the next 10 years to improve the quality of child care and early learning for children from birth to age 5.

The plan is to create two model child-care centers - one in Western Washington, the other in Eastern Washington - that will offer highly trained teachers and excellent care.

The foundation expects to pick its two communities by next summer, and eventually reach a majority of the young children, and up to 70 percent of the low-income children, in each community, The Seattle Times reported for a story in Sunday editions.

Offerings might include professional development for caregivers, home visits from public-health nurses, curriculum development, pre- and post-natal support programs and child-development or community-education classes.

The goal will be to raise the quality of care in both communities and show how to better prepare students for success in school and life.

"The fact that they're focusing on this is huge," Bob Watt, co-chairman of the state Early Learning Council and vice president of community and government affairs for the Boeing Co., told The Times. "They bring tremendous energy and resources."

The Gates Foundation started looking into ways to help troubled youth about two years ago. Though Washington once was considered a leader on early-childhood issues, many observers say it now lags behind other states.

A study commissioned by the Gates Foundation found that nearly one in four Washington children age 5 and younger experiences poverty, parental unemployment or some other difficulty that increases the risk of failure in school and beyond.

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