Pardon lets company off the hook

Posted: Monday, December 25, 2006

ANCHORAGE - A company convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of one of its workers killed in an avalanche in 1999 was pardoned by former Gov. Frank Murkowski just days before leaving office.

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Gary Stone, the 46-year-old father of five was killed in an avalanche while on a Whitewater Engineering Corp. job site outside Cordova. Whitewater is based in Bellingham, Wash.

In a Nov. 30 letter addressed to Thom Fischer, Whitewater's president and owner, Murkowski said: "I recognize that criminal convictions against a company has serious implications for small businesses operating in Alaska." He added that criminal charges "seem to be excessive punishment."

The family said that the state never notified them of the pardon, which the company had requested.

"This is a huge slap on the face," said daughter Jessica Ridinger, 30, who burst into tears when told about the pardon by an Anchorage Daily News reporter.

Unlike most states, a pardon in Alaska does not wipe a crime from the record. However, it may offer the company insurance breaks and opportunities for future federal or state jobs, legal experts said.

In his pardon letter, Murkowski said his decision was based on "my view that this was a tragic accident caused by a snow avalanche in Alaska's harsh climate. The imposition of criminal penalties in this case seem to be excessive punishment."

Murkowski couldn't be reached for comment.

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