State Briefs

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2001

Snowmobiler was high-marking when avalanche hit

FAIRBANKS - Dwayne Dufford of Fairbanks was high-marking when he got caught in an avalanche, Alaska State Troopers said.

Dufford, 30, became the state's fourth avalanche fatality so far this season when he was buried by a snow slide on Monday near Cantwell.

High-marking involves traveling up a steep slope, seeing how high a mark can be left on the side of a mountain before a rider is forced to turn around. It's a favorite maneuver on snowmachines but can be extremely risky in avalanche conditions, said avalanche expert Jill Fredston.

The problem often occurs when the rider reaches the steepest point and becomes stuck trying to turn around. The weight of the rider and the snowmachine create more stress than the snowpack can hold.

"It's essentially like kicking the snow in the knees," said Fredston, who runs the Alaska Mountain Safety Center with her husband, Doug Fesler.

Because there already have been several deaths and the main avalanche season doesn't approach until March, Lt. Chuck Lamica, the statewide search and rescue coordinator for troopers, is worried.

"My impression is that this is not normal for this early in the season," Lamica said.

"A lot of people have this misunderstanding if I get in an avalanche I'll just swim out of it," Lamica said. "You're in effect in a waterfall, the only difference is you're in a frozen waterfall."

The biggest giveaway is the "whumping" sound made when crossing unstable layers of snow. Snowmachiners, however, often don't hear this sound and don't know an avalanche is coming until it's right on top of them. Other clues include fresh avalanche paths, lot of fresh snow after a long cold period and damaged or broken trees.

Lamica said taking an avalanche-awareness class helps, but avalanches aren't an exact science. The Alaska Mountain Safety Center in Anchorage offers classes as do some snowmachine clubs and ski patrols. In Juneau and Southeast, the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center offers classes for snowmachiners and others.

"There's so many variables that enter into it," Lamica said. "If you don't know, the simple answer is don't go out on the slope."

It doesn't help that snowmachines these days are more powerful and can take people deeper into dangerous territory. "People are getting higher up in the mountains and farther back than five or 10 years ago," Lamica said.

Fairbanks man sentenced to four years for sexual assault

FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks man indicted on charges he sexually assaulted two women in separate incidents last year was sentenced to spend four years in prison.

Charles McCraven, 46, was indicted in March on sexual assault and kidnapping charges in connection with the incidents, which took place in September and December 2000. McCraven agreed in July to plead no contest to one count of second-degree sexual assault. The remaining charges were dismissed.

In both incidents the women say they were sexually assaulted in McCraven's apartment. McCraven has maintained his innocence and said the sex was consensual.

"I didn't do anything wrong," McCraven said at the sentencing Wednesday.

Prosecutor Teresa Foster argued that the similarities between the stories of the women pointed toward McCraven's guilt. She also noted McCraven's criminal history, including convictions for indecent exposure and making threatening phone calls.

Judge Charles Pengilly said he saw essentially no chance that McCraven could be successfully rehabilitated. He sentenced him to 10 years in prison, with six years suspended and seven years probation.

Suspect in fatal truck crash flees Native Medical Center

ANCHORAGE - A man suspected of causing a fatal crash Sunday ran away from the hospital where be was being treated for injuries.

Joel Ruby, 23, ran away from Alaska Native Medical Center on Wednesday.

Police said he is suspected of being behind the wheel of the stolen pickup truck that crashed into the driver's side of a truck driven by Edward Wong, 51, early Sunday morning. Wong, owner of International Market grocery, died in the crash.

Ruby was wearing a cast applied to a broken right leg. He also suffered a broken wrist in the accident.

Police said they are looking for Ruby to return him to the hospital for his own safety. Police searched his sister's apartment Wednesday but could find no sign of Ruby.

Authorities seek information on woman's suspicious death

ANCHORAGE - Police are seeking information about a companion of a 56-year-old woman found dead in suspicious circumstances Dec. 20.

The body of Charlotte C. Miles, whom police also referred to as Cheri Miles, was discovered in a cabinet, wrapped in a blanket secured by duct tape, at her home in a trailer on Muldoon Road.

Detective Joe Hoffbeck said Miles apparently died in mid-November. The state medical examiner has not determined the cause of death.

Police are seeking information regarding Miles' whereabouts and activities prior to her death.

Family members told police Miles had been seeing a new male friend named Brandon in late October or early November. Police said Brandon is white, in his 50s and may be working as a barber.

Hoffbeck said Brandon is not considered a suspect in Miles' death.

"He was an acquaintance of hers and I need to find where his is and talk to him," Hoffbeck said.

Miles' home in December had been rented by her son to another family.

Saxman community center projected to open in June

KETCHIKAN - A new Saxman community center roof is essentially complete, according to project manager Dave Jensen.

The new hall will replace the Saxman Community Hall that collapsed under heavy snow in February 1999.

The building will sport a National Basketball Association-size basketball court with a running course on the second level.

The building will be equipped with showers, a portable stage for large gatherings, space to feed 500 people and a commercial kitchen.

The building will feature lobbies on both floors, a large conference room, two offices and a 300-seat auditorium, Jensen said.

The city of Saxman is preparing to advertise for electrical and mechanical contractors. The building is projected to open in June.

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