Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, December 29, 2003

Snow leads moose into the path of vehicles

ANCHORAGE - Recent snowfall has led to a spike in the numbers of collisions between moose and vehicles in Southcentral Alaska.

"We just keep reiterating that people need to slow down," said Gino Del Frate, a state wildlife biologist in Palmer.

Between one to two moose are struck by vehicles per day as the number of fatalities in the Matanuska Susitna Borough climbs.

About 130 moose have been hit so far this winter, including 48 in the Palmer area just this month. That compares with an average of about 200 total for a Mat-Su winter.

December is typically a bad month for moose hits because of darkness, but the recent snowfall has led to a spike in numbers from Seward to Cantwell.

On the Kenai Peninsula, more than 190 moose have been hit and killed this winter, state wildlife technician Larry Lewis said. One third of those collisions have come in the past month, Lewis said.

That's short of the record winter of 1989-90, when 366 moose were killed. But it compares with an average of about 232 total per winter.

Man changes mind about murder plea

ANCHORAGE - A man accused of stabbing his mother to death in their Wasilla area home has changed his mind about a planned plea bargain, prosecutors said.

Aaron Butler, 27, is charged with first-degree murder in the March death of Grace Butler.

He was scheduled to agree to a plea bargain Friday morning. But at a hearing in Palmer Superior Court, Butler's public defender announced that his client was not ready to plead no contest to second-degree murder in exchange for serving 50 years in prison, with a chance at parole, said Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak.

"He just said he wasn't ready to do it today," Kalytiak told the Anchorage Daily News. "So right now we're back to trial."

Murkowski may move lab to Anchorage

FAIRBANKS - Gov. Frank Murkowski is considering moving the state's virology lab to Anchorage in an effort to save money, administration officials said.

Located in the Arctic Health Research Building at University of Alaska Fairbanks, the lab is responsible for diagnosing diseases ranging from HIV to the flu.

The facility, which employs 15, dates to the late 1960s and is deemed to be in need of an upgrade.

"We're bulging at the seams," said lab manager Don Ritter.

The administration is considering legislation that would authorize $7.6 million in certificates of participation to construct a new addition onto the existing state medical lab in Anchorage.

But a Murkowski spokesman cautioned that no final decisions have been made about building a new facility.

Man enters plea in North Pole Internet sex case

FAIRBANKS - A 27-year-old man has pleaded no contest in a case alleging he had sex with a 13-year-old North Pole girl he met through the Internet.

Jason S. Richards will spend as much of 18 months in jail as part of a plea agreement. He pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor during an appearance Wednesday in state Superior Court in Fairbanks.

In exchange for the plea, the prosecution agreed to dismiss five other sexual abuse charges.

Richards is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2.

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