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Wasilla truck-pole crash leaves thousands without power

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 06:55

Thousands of Matanuska Electric Association customers were left without power and a driver was hurt when his truck struck a utility pole in Wasilla Wednesday night, according to Alaska State Troopers and MEA.

Twitter messages from MEA said as many as 25,000 customers were affected.

Outage update: 6 substations have been lost causing approx. 25,000 to be out of power. Cause- car/pole accident. pic.twitter.com/3bjN4s8F56 — Matanuska Electric (@meacoop) May 26, 2016

Power for most was restored by about midnight Wednesday.

UPDATE: Everyone is back on except those affected by the damaged feeder. 835 members remain w/o power and can expect to be for min. of 6 hrs — Matanuska Electric (@meacoop) May 26, 2016

On its Facebook page, MEA reported early Thursday that power had was still out for about 1,000 customers in the vicinity of Church and Pittman roads, as a result of a breaker "not holding on that line."

"Crews are working to reroute some of the power now, hopefully bringing back up some of the 1,000, while the rest continue to search for a cause of why the line isn't holding," MEA officials wrote.

Troopers wrote in a dispatch that they responded just before 10 p.m. to the crash near the intersection of Bogard and Tait roads. Thirty-year-old Wasilla resident Andrew J. Remiorz was driving west on Bogard Road when he left the road and hit the pole, "destroying both the truck and the pole," troopers wrote.

Medics took Remiorz to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center for treatment.

Troopers said they continue to investigate the crash. There was no immediate word of citations or charges in the incident.

A Candidate's Nagging Controversy, and Voters' Fading Trust

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 06:52

News Analysis

For more than a year, Hillary Clinton has traveled the country talking to voters about her policy plans. She vowed to improve infrastructure in her first 100 days in office, promised to increase funding for Alzheimer's research and proposed a $10 billion plan to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

But as the Democratic primary contest comes to a close, any hopes Clinton had of running a high-minded, policy-focused campaign have collided with a more visceral problem.

Voters just don't trust her.

The Clinton campaign had hoped to use the coming weeks to do everything it could to shed that image and convince voters Clinton can be trusted. Instead, they must contend with a damaging new report by the State Department's inspector general that Clinton had not sought or received approval to use a private email server while she was secretary of state.

It is not just that the inspector general found fault with her email practices. The report speaks directly to a wounding perception that Clinton is not forthright or transparent.

After months of saying that she used a private email system for convenience and that she was willing to cooperate fully with investigations into her handling of official business at the State Department, the report, delivered to Congress on Wednesday, undermined both claims.

Clinton, through her lawyers, declined to be interviewed by the inspector general as part of the review. And when staff members raised concerns about the wisdom of her using a nongovernment email address, they were hushed by State Department officials, who instructed them "never to speak of the secretary's personal email system again."

In November 2010, when a State Department aide requested she release her personal email address or start using an official address, Clinton said she was open to using a second device or email address but added, "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."

Clinton's allies on Wednesday jumped on the fact that the report also revealed that Colin Powell, the secretary of state under President George W. Bush, and other State Department officials had also exclusively used personal email accounts.

"The inspector general documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other secretaries and senior officials at the State Department," said Brian Fallon, a Clinton spokesman.

But Powell is not running for president against a likely opponent, Donald Trump, who has now adopted the drumbeat of "Crooked Hillary."

"Crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary, she's as crooked as they come," Trump said at a rally in Anaheim, California.

His attacks came as Clinton tried to break through with her own criticism that Trump had profited from the 2008 housing crisis.

But the Clinton campaign's new effort to define Trump as a con man who rips off the little guy for his own gain will be met with the trickle of new developments related to Clinton's private email. The FBI is separately investigating whether Clinton and her aides exposed sensitive national security information in their email correspondence. She has already turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department.

And Clinton's campaign has struggled to put the issue behind her. Clinton spent much of last summer insisting she did not need to apologize for keeping a private server in her home in Chappaqua, New York, because the practice was "allowed." Then, in September, she offered a tortured apology, acknowledging in an interview with ABC News that using a private email server had been a "mistake." She added, "I'm sorry about that."

Clinton has long contended that voters care more about issues — like equal pay for women, widely available child care, and making college more affordable — than how she handled her emails as secretary of state. Even her Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, tried to squelch the storm over the private server during the first Democratic debate last fall.

But something has seeped into the electorate. A presidential campaign always contends with incoming fire, but it is also designed to serve as an infomercial to present a candidate's best attributes. Instead, Clinton has gone from a 69 percent approval rating and one of the most popular public figures in the country when she left the State Department in 2013 to having one of the highest disapproval ratings of any likely presidential nominee of a major party.

Roughly 53 percent of voters said they had an unfavorable opinion of Clinton in a new ABC-News Washington Post poll. Some 60 percent of voters said they had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

When asked if Clinton and Trump are "honest and trustworthy," 64 percent of registered voters replied "no," according to a recent New York Times-CBS News poll. Ask voters why they don't trust Clinton, and again and again they will answer with a single word: Emails.

"I don't believe a word when she says she didn't know what she was doing with those emails," said Debbie Figel, 57. She plans to vote for Trump.

"This email business really concerns me," said John Dunn, 58 of Oneida, New York.

Italy says migrant boat capsized, second in two days

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 06:40

A migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean on Thursday, an Italian coastguard spokesman said, and 88 people have been rescued while the number of possible dead is unknown.

It was the second shipwreck in two days, after five were confirmed to have died when a large fishing boat flipped over in the sea on Wednesday.

Boat arrivals in Italy have risen sharply this week amid warm weather and calm seas, and about 20 rescue operations are currently under way, the spokesman said.

Between 20 and 30 people are feared dead, Ansa news agency reported without saying where it got the information, while the coastguard declined to estimate how many may have died.

"We don't know how many people were on board," the coastguard spokesman said.

An aircraft from the European Union's Sophia mission to fight people smuggling spotted the overturned vessel and called in the coastguard to assist in the rescue.

The coastguard has coordinated the rescue of around 900 migrants in seven different operations on Thursday. That brings the total of migrants who have been rescued since Monday to more than 7,000.

Through Tuesday, total sea arrivals in Italy had fallen by 9 percent this year, to 37,743, according to the Interior Ministry, but the country's migrant shelters are already under pressure to house 115,507 migrants, about twice as many as two years ago.

Some 650 migrants are scheduled to arrive in the Sicilian city of Porto Empedocle later on Thursday, including the five dead bodies recovered by the Italian navy on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Isla Binnie and Ralph Boulton)

Trump and Sanders Agree to Debate

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 06:19

Hillary Clinton has declined an invitation to debate Sen. Bernie Sanders before the California primary election next month, but he may have found a willing replacement: Donald Trump.

The idea of a debate between the two men came up on Wednesday when Trump was appearing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and Kimmel said that Sanders had passed along an invitation to Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Trump, who opted out of a debate in Iowa in January and decided that he would no longer do primary debates after the Republican field narrowed to three candidates, said he would be open to debating Sanders if the proceeds were donated to charity.

"If I debated him we would have such high ratings and I think we should take that money and give it to some worthy charity," Trump said. "If we paid a nice sum toward a charity, I would love to do that."

Sanders, who faces a big delegate deficit against Clinton, was quick to seal the agreement.

"Game on," he wrote in a post on Twitter. "I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary."

Sanders and Clinton had agreed to doing another debate before California primary, and last week Fox News extended invitations to both candidates to participate in one. While Sanders was eager to debate, Clinton, who is trying to turn her attention toward Trump, declined the offer.

An interparty debate between Trump and Sanders, before the Democratic nomination is wrapped up, would create an unusual spectacle and could leave Clinton in the dark as her two rivals soak up the political spotlight. It could also provide Trump with an opportunity to openly shop himself to Sanders' supporters, who he has been hoping will turn to him instead of Clinton in a general election.

For Sanders, a debate with Trump would provide a burst of publicity ahead of the contest in California, where he is in a tight race with Clinton.

Asked if the offer to debate Trump was a serious one, Michael Briggs, a spokesman for Sanders, said it was "real."

Obama: World leaders are 'rattled' by Trump — and for good reason

Alaska News - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 06:17
U.S. President Barack Obama leaves after attending a news conference during the 2016 Ise-Shima G7 Summit in Shima, Japan May 26, 2016. (Carlos ...

Obama: World leaders are 'rattled' by Trump — and for good reason

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 06:12

ISE-SHIMA, Japan -- President Barack Obama said Thursday that world leaders are "rattled" by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and that he doesn't blame them for being worried about the real estate mogul's political rise.

"They are not sure how seriously to take some of his pronouncements but they're rattled by him, and for good reason," Obama said. "A lot of the proposals that he has made display either ignorance of world affairs or a cavalier attitude or an interest in getting tweets and headlines instead of actually thinking through what it is required to keep America safe."

Though it was one of Obama's sharper criticisms of Trump, the president did not call the billionaire candidate by name in his public remarks.

Still, he pulled no punches as he described what foreign leaders have told him as he travels through Asia this week, a tour that took him first to Vietnam and then to Japan for a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.

To be clear, none of the leaders Obama has been meeting with have made any public statements of their own about Trump. But in a news conference at the end of the G7 summit, Obama said that even critics of the U.S. have made clear to him that they are paying close attention to the election and its possible reverberations around the globe.

They know that "ultimately things don't hold together so well if the United States is not making good decisions and count on us to provide a certain level of stability and direction," Obama said. "I think it's fair to say that they are surprised by the Republican nominee."

Obama has a personal interest in the outcome of the election, as many of his most significant policies were enacted by executive action and depend on his successor to carry them out.

Even with his legacy in the balance, Obama said Thursday that he doesn't plan to step in to cut off the Democratic primary before the voting is done next month – and maybe not even until one of the candidates has conceded to the other.

He suggested he has a feeling the primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will be "resolved" and the party will pull together around a common vision, likely "by the time of the convention" in July in Philadelphia.

In the meantime, he said he has asked both sides to stick to the issues and not make the kind of personal comments that make people "grumpy.

"It weighs on you more, being criticized by folks who are in your own party," he said. "It always hurts just a little more."

Rolling Meadows native survives brutal bear attack in <b>Alaska</b>

Alaska News - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 02:07
A Rolling Meadows native is recovering from a brutal attack by a large brown bear in the remote Alaska wilderness, which at one point involved his ...

North Pole softball clinches second place in Mid <b>Alaska</b> Conference, earns state berth

Alaska News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 23:41
The Hawks (18-2 overall, 11-0 Mid Alaska Conference) lost 9-3 to Wasilla in their second game Tuesday after starting the night with a win over North ...

East, South post big wins in CIC softball tournament

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 23:06

Cook Inlet Conference softball heavy-hitters East and South came out with big bats on the second day of the conference tournament Wednesday at Albrecht Fields.

The Thunderbirds needed only three innings to defeat Chugiak 16-0. The Wolverines downed Dimond 9-1 in five innings.

Both teams earned spots in next week's state tournament. Two more teams will also advance.

East and South will face each other Friday at 5:45 p.m. in a semifinal game in the double-elimination tournament. The winner goes straight to Saturday's championship game and the other drops into the losers bracket.

"I told them I wanted them to come out and make a statement," East coach Paul Schoenborn said. "They did that pretty well tonight.

"Everybody hit the ball, everybody contributed. It was a nice win."

East pitcher Daisy Page tallied four strikeouts and allowed one hit in three innings for the Thunderbirds. She also went 3 for 3 with an RBI.

"This win, it just pushes us and lets us know we're as good as any team out here and that if we really work hard, we can achieve our goals that we have set for ourselves," Page said.

East started the game with a two-run RBI single by Octavia Hines in the bottom of the first inning. Nicolette Dabbs walloped a deep home run in the second inning, and the Thunderbirds added nine runs in the third inning to close the win.

"That win qualifies us for state, which is great, but we're not done here," Schoenborn said. "I told them we got two more wins here to win this, and that is our goal right now — one game at a time and take care of what's in front of us."

South's big inning came in the fourth. Leading 3-1, Sydney Bulot smacked a solo home run to start a five-run inning for the Wolverines.

On the defensive side, South shortstop Taylor Lawson snagged an over-the-shoulder catch to save two runs in the second inning.

Dimond's only run came on a home run from Katie Hanson.

Going into Friday's showdown between the CIC's top two teams, East is 21-1 and South is 21-3. Two of South's losses came against East.

"We want to get that win," South coach Joe White said. "(East) has beat us 8-5 and they beat us 3-2 in our two meetings this year.

"We want to topple the giant. Paul (Schoenborn) has a great program."

It's not too early to start planning for the Alaska Run for Women

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 22:03

More than two weeks remain before the 24th annual Alaska Run for Women, but women can get a head start now for Alaska's biggest footrace.

Multi-taskers can pick up their race bib and get their annual mammogram all at once on Saturday, June 4.

A mobile mammogram unit will be parked at the University Center that day during the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. bib pickup. Women have until Tuesday, May 31, to schedule a mobile mammogram with Providence Imaging Center (212-3151 in Anchorage or 888-458-3151 toll free).

The mammogram/bib pickup is the perfect combination for a race that is a fundraiser for breast cancer related organizations.

Since 1993, the Run for Women has provided more than $4 million dollars in grants and free mammograms to help battle breast cancer. Last year's event raised enough money to provide $200,000 in grants to eight recipients, including the YWCA EncorePlus program, the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Center and a clinical research program at UAA.

A big portion of that money – $143,848 – came from 5,865 registered runners, who make donations in lieu of entry fees. A $25 donation is recommended, but many make bigger donations.

This year's donations are averaging about $30. So far, 1,736 girls and women have signed up for the June 11 race and have donated $52,464, according to the race's website.

If history is any indication, those numbers will grow dramatically between now and race day.

Mail-in registration ends Wednesday, June 1 (Box 230929, Anchorage, 99523-0929; registration forms are available at akrfw.org).

Online registration for the timed 5-mile run ends at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, at akrfw.org. Online registration for the untimed 5-miler and the 1-mile event ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 10.

Runners can also sign up at one of four bib pickup events, including one Wasilla on Wednesday, June 1. Anchorage events are at University Center on June 4, June 7 and June 9.

Procrastinators can sign up on race day from 6:45-8 a.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium. The first event, the 1-miler, begins at 8:30 a.m.

It&#39;s not too early to start planning for the <b>Alaska</b> Run for Women

Alaska News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 22:00
More than two weeks remain before the 24th annual Alaska Run for Women, but women can get a head start now for Alaska's biggest footrace.

It's not too early to start planning for the Alaska Run for Women

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 21:46

More than two weeks remain before the 24th annual Alaska Run for Women, but women can get a head start now for Alaska's biggest footrace.

Multi-taskers can pick up their race bib and get their annual mammogram all at once on Saturday, June 4.

A mobile mammogram unit will be parked at the University Center that day during the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. bib pickup. Women have until Tuesday, May 31, to schedule a mobile mammogram with Providence Imaging Center (212-3151 in Anchorage or 888-458-3151 toll free).

The mammogram/bib pickup is the perfect combination for a race that is a fundraiser for breast cancer related organizations.

Since 1993, the Run for Women has provided more than $4 million dollars in grants and free mammograms to help battle breast cancer. Last year's event raised enough money to provide $200,000 in grants to eight recipients, including the YWCA EncorePlus program, the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Center and a clinical research program at UAA.

A big portion of that money – $143,848 – came from 5,865 registered runners, who make donations in lieu of entry fees. A $25 donation is recommended, but many make bigger donations.

This year's donations are averaging about $30. So far, 1,736 girls and women have signed up for the June 11 race and have donated $52,464, according to the race's website.

If history is any indication, those numbers will grow dramatically between now and race day.

Mail-in registration ends Wednesday, June 1 (Box 230929, Anchorage, 99523-0929; registration forms are available at akrfw.org).

Online registration for the timed 5-mile run ends at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, at akrfw.org. Online registration for the untimed 5-miler and the 1-mile event ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 10.

Runners can also sign up at one of four bib pickup events, including one Wasilla on Wednesday, June 1. Anchorage events are at University Center on June 4, June 7 and June 9.

Procrastinators can sign up on race day from 6:45-8 a.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium. The first event, the 1-miler, begins at 8:30 a.m.

The DMV has a confidential database that even Anchorage police can’t access

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 21:45

When Anchorage Police got a report of an obnoxious driver with red and blue lights on his dashboard last weekend, they tried to find the car's owner from the photo of the Alaska license plate sent by a citizen.

Their search came up empty, said Jennifer Castro, the police spokeswoman. There was nothing in the usual listings provided by the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles.

"I believe we called over to troopers and it wasn't their vehicle, so we had concern at that point," Castro said in an interview Wednesday.

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The police asked the public to help them find the driver who was suspected of impersonating a police officer. The driver was white, in his 30s, and had short hair. A witness said the driver gave him the middle finger.

Two days after police released the man's description, they sent out another public statement.

"The agency acknowledged the vehicle was on official business at the time of the incident," said the police statement Monday.

It had taken police substantial detective work to track down the agency that owned the vehicle because the license plates were not registered in the normal DMV database.

Castro said police determined the SUV's owner after looking through "hundreds and thousands of reports using a search query." Castro said that the license plate turned up in a police report and was linked to an "ATF agent," though she said she didn't have specifics Wednesday on what the report said.

"I don't think it was because that vehicle had done something wrong," Castro said. "It was mentioned in a report because it happened to be on scene."

Police contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Exposives, a U.S. Justice Department agency, which confirmed that the SUV was theirs, Castro said.

So why didn't it turn up in the state database of Alaska license plates?

Minta Montalbo, legislative liaison at the Alaska Department of Administration, said that all motor vehicles must be registered with the DMV; however, "certain law enforcement agencies have the power to request confidentiality."

No one has access to that confidential database, she said, not even other law enforcement agencies like the Anchorage Police Department.

"It's one of DMV's jobs to make sure we know what's on the street," Montalbo said. "We also have to protect the mission of law enforcement."

Montalbo said she could not confirm whether or not ATF's vehicles were in the confidential database. She said law enforcement agencies could have relationships outside of the DMV to access information on each other's vehicles.

ATF's Seattle office, which also oversees operations in Alaska, declined to answer questions Tuesday about the bureau's policies regarding unmarked vehicles or whether any disciplinary action had been taken. The office released a brief statement from special agent in charge Doug Dawson.

"ATF is aware of the allegations made in the complaint and is investigating the incident," Dawson said. "Further, as a matter of policy, ATF does not comment on personnel matters."

Castro said police only have access to the regular  DMV database and its own database with Anchorage Police Department vehicles. She said police did not have separate access to ATF vehicle information. It isn't uncommon for the police to not have access to other agency's databases, she said.

"We have our own systems, our own softwares, our own tracking mechanisms," she said.

She said police had not yet heard the other side of the story from the man driving the white SUV owned by ATF.

The witness who originally called police said the man had tried to pull him over last Thursday as he drove northbound on the Glenn Highway around 5:30 p.m., police said.

"As the motorist yielded, the driver sped past him, laughed, and flipped him the middle finger," police reported in Saturday's public statement. "The complainant observed this occur three other times with the same results."

The witness did not call police until Friday, Castro said. Police said Monday that ATF would be conducting a personnel investigation.

Castro said people can identify Anchorage police vehicles because their license plates have government markings and special plate numbers beginning with the letter X. Marked police vehicles also include painted identification numbers.

But Castro said that's not the case with all agencies. The white SUV did not have a marked government plate.

Castro said drivers who are unsure whether they are being pulled over by an actual Anchorage police officer can call dispatchers at 907-786-8900 to check the authenticity of a police vehicle by its markings, or to confirm an officer's badge number.

If a driver called about an ATF vehicle again and the license plate could not be verified, police may send out an officer, Castro said.

"We'll work with people if they have a true, legit fear," she said.

Chris Klint contributed to this story.

Lamoreaux continues roll with time-trial cycling victory

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 21:44

Jason Lamoreaux continued his hot start to the cycling season Tuesday by winning the 9.5-mile Eagle River Nature Center time trial.

Lamoreaux, who won two out of four races to claim the overall title in last week's Spring Stage Race, finished with a one-minute victory over Erik Ostberg.

Lamoreaux made the scenic but demanding ride on Eagle River Road in 24 minutes, 29.5 seconds. Ostberg finished in 25:31.4.

Tops among the women was Sheryl Loan in 27:38.3. She was nearly five minutes faster than any other woman.

Racing continues Thursday with the season's first race in the Arctic Bicycle Club's criterium series. Competition begins at 6 p.m. at Kulis Business Park.

Eagle River Nature Center time trial

Open Men — 1) Jason Lamoreaux 24:29.5; 2) Erik Ostberg 25:31.4; 3) Aris Sophocles 26:26.4; 4) Doug Schutte 26:35.0; 5) Tom Peichel 26:35.9; 6) Brian Bonney 26:36.2; 7) Joey Bacala 26:57.3.

Open Women — 1) Sheryl Loan 27:38.3.

Master Men (45+) — 1) Andrew Duenow 26:30.8; 2) Bill Fleming 28:39.4; 3) Stewart Osgood 29:49.1; 4) Jeffrey Thurston 29:57.4; 5) Tol Fishburn 32:34.7.

Master Women (45+) — 1) Shanon Titzel 32:17.1; 2) Karen Morrison 33:21.1; 3) Stacy Steinberg 35:15.3; 4) Kimberly Bush 37:36.1; 5) Kathryn Price 42:13.8.

Master Men (60+) — 1) Denis Corral 33:45.2; 2) James Briggs 34:40.5; 3) Gunnar Knapp 36:56.8.

Intermediate Men — 1) Mark Burson 32:56.3.

Intermediate Women — 1) Lindzey Ruderman 33:18.3; 2) Kelsey Tranel 34:28.5; 3) Jennifer Slaughter 37:32.7.

Novice Men — 1) Tom Schultz 31:58.5; 2) Adam Reich 32:18.5; 3) Michael Fischetti 33:11.8; 4) Robert Moreland 34:39.4; 5) Adam Ostberg 34:43.0; 6) Shamarcus P. Grayson 36:27.7; 7) Seth Landon 43:56.4.

Novice Women — 1) Brooke Therrien 38:30.1.

Junior Boys — 1) Anthony Morrison 40:00.4; 2) Shay Shumaker 43:46.6.

Junior Girls — 1) Alyssa Hargis 38:13.7.

Twelve-year-old Romanian ties record for youngest girl to reach Denali summit

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 21:43

Twelve-year-old Romanian climber Dor Geta Popescu reached the top of Denali last week, and can now join Alaskan Merrick Johnston as the youngest women to reach North America's tallest peak.

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Johnston climbed Denali in 1995. She grew up in Anchorage and now lives in Harstad, Norway.

The Denali climb gives Popescu successful ascents on four of the Seven Summits, the tallest mountains of each continent. Earlier this year, she climbed 22,838-foot Mount Aconcagua in Argentina. Last year, she knocked off 18,510-foot Elbrus in Russia and 19,324-foot Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

She plans on climbing Indonesia's 16,024-foot Carstensz Pyramid later this year and adding 29,029-foot Mount Everest and Antarctica's 16,050-foot Mount Vinson next year.

"I am extremely happy," Popescu said in a press release. "Higher, higher, higher yet again. It is an achievement I have always dreamed of and for which I would have been ready to stay on the mountain for 30 days, which is the maximum one can stretch to in those extreme weather conditions."

Instead, Popescu, a member of the Romanian Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing, reached the summit in just eight days after departing May 10, pulling a supply sled much of the way. She climbed with her father, Ovidiu Popescu, an avid veteran climber.

"Seven days full of emotions — and at the very end the utter happiness of succeeding," she said in the press release.

[Facts about Denali]

The youngest climber to reach Denali's summit is Galen Johnston (no relation to Merrick), who in 2001 at age 11 reached the top on a climb with his renown climbing father, Dave Johnston, and mother, Cari Sayre. Today he works as a coach at the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center in Anchorage.

Dave Johnston may be best known for the harrowing first winter ascent of the mountain then known as Mount McKinley, memorialized in the classic book "Minus 148" by climbing partner Art Davidson. He's also the first person to climb the tallest peaks in all 50 states in winter.

Galen's climb included a memorable meeting of young climbing stars. At the 14,000-foot camp, "she came bouncing up, 'Hey, I'm Merrick.' " By then, Merrick Johnston was working as a climbing guide.

"We hung out and rode around on snowboards," Galen said. "She told my parents, if somebody's going to break my record, I'm glad it's an Alaskan with the same name."

Maureen Gualtieri, public information officer at the National Park Service's Talkeetna Ranger Station, said there are no age restrictions for climbers attempting Denali, Foraker or other Alaska Range summits.

"But children climbing at that age is not something we encourage," she said. "It catches our eye during registration and prompts questions.

"It (climbing) takes a lot of decision-making skills — making good decisions at altitude in complex situations."

Gualtieri added that knowing the mountain-climbing backgrounds of both young Johnstons made the Park Service more confident of their skills. She added the agency hasn't compared birthdates to determine which girl is the youngest 12-year-old.

Galen Johnston, a 27-year-old coach of young teenagers at APU's ski center, said "for kids 11, 12, or 13 years old who grew up in an outdoorsy family, they can pull it off absolutely.

"It's a huge mountain. But in a lot of ways, it's not supertechnical. For someone who's good at listening to their body, it's a very attainable goal.

"It went well, but there were definitely moments when I didn't want to be there. I got really homesick up there. That was such a drastically different environment. Overall it was a scary but very positive experience," he added.

Is there an age that's too young?

"Before I was probably 10, I wouldn't have been capable of it," he said. "Physically, I could have done it. Mentally I could not have."

Popescu's ascent comes as Denali enters the busiest two weeks of the climbing season, according to Gualtieri.

Climbers have battled stiff winds early this season with just a few windows of good weather. Only 31 climbers out of the 129 that have returned from the 20,308-foot mountain reached the summit. That's 24 percent.

But Gualtieri said 389 climbers were on the mountain Wednesday and she expects more than 1,000 will make the attempt on Denali before the season ends next month.

Anchorage police investigating fatal shooting at gas station

Alaska News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 21:41
(Scott Jensen / Alaska Dispatch News). Wil Smith, a 23-year-old employee at the gas station, stood across the street from the crime scene. He said he ...

States file suit in test of Obama administration's transgender bathroom policy

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 21:41

AUSTIN, Texas — The Obama administration on Wednesday faced the first major court challenge to its guidance about the civil rights of transgender students in public schools, as officials in 11 states filed a lawsuit testing both the scope of federal anti-discrimination law and the government's sweeping interpretation of it. 

The officials, in states from Arizona to Georgia to Texas to Wisconsin, brought the case in U.S. District Court in Wichita Falls, Texas, and said that the Obama administration had "conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over common-sense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights."

The lawsuit asked the court to block the federal government from "implementing, applying or enforcing the new rules, regulations and guidance interpretations."

Wednesday's litigation fed into the nation's intensifying, and suddenly fast-moving, debate about the rights of transgender people and, in particular, whether the administration has exceeded the scope of current U.S. laws defining discrimination.

Dena W. Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said officials would review the complaint and that "the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans."

Although transgender rights have been litigated for years, the issue shifted into the public consciousness, in part because of the May 13 directive from the Department of Education and the Justice Department that a school "must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity."

The government also said that a school had an obligation "to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents or community members raise objections or concerns."

The officials added that "the desire to accommodate others' discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students."

The guidance, signed by two of the government's most senior civil rights officials, did not carry the force of law, but many conservatives responded with outrage at one of its implications: that federal officials, effectively prodded by President Barack Obama, might deny money to schools that defy the recommendations.

"He says he's going to withhold funding if schools do not follow the policy," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas said this month. "Well in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not yield to blackmail from the president of the United States."

On Wednesday, officials in other states used language that was only slightly less bellicose and colorful. In Louisiana, Attorney General Jeff Landry said he worried that federal officials would "wreak further havoc on our schools," and he added that the administration's guidance "puts the safety and security of all of our children in jeopardy." And in Arizona, the superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas, said the federal government's approach was "insulting and, quite frankly, intolerable."

The plaintiffs in Wednesday's lawsuit include nine states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin — as well as the governor of Maine, Paul R. LePage; the Arizona Department of Education; and school districts in Arizona and Texas.

In their lawsuit, which was assigned to Judge Reed C. O'Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, the officials said that the federal government had gone "so far beyond any reasonable reading of the relevant congressional text such that the new rules, regulations, guidance and interpretations functionally exercise lawmaking power reserved only to Congress."

That argument has become a familiar one, especially after the Justice Department and North Carolina officials traded lawsuits about a statute there that limits public restroom access for transgender people. But the Justice Department has been unbowed, and the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has made clear her commitment to transgender rights.

"We see you," Lynch said this month, addressing transgender people from a Justice Department lectern where she announced the case pushing back against North Carolina's law. "We stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward."

Here in Texas, a state that has been at the forefront of challenging Obama throughout his tenure, Wednesday's litigation came as little surprise. State officials have been railing against the government's guidance for weeks, and on Monday, a small district in North Texas advanced a policy to require students to use the restroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.

Texas officials expected the decision of the school board in the Harrold Independent School District, near the Oklahoma border and just northwest of Wichita Falls, to draw the Justice Department's ire, and Wednesday's lawsuit amounted to an effort to pre-empt whatever resistance might emerge from Washington.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said he welcomed the decision to sue, and he asserted that states, including Texas, were "the last line of defense against an unlawfully expansive federal government."

Yet some legal experts and transgender rights advocates questioned the lawsuit's prospects, and they doubted whether the officials even had the standing to bring such a case.

"I see it as a political stunt, and a really unfortunate one because it's at the expense of transgender people, including transgender youth all across the country," said James D. Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who focuses on gender identity and sexual orientation issues. "They're acting as though the Obama administration's guidance that came out a few weeks ago is like the first time that anyone has interpreted federal bans on sex discrimination to cover transgender people."

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the administration "may be pushing the envelope, but not a whole lot."

Perhaps more crucially, Tobias noted, the litigation in Texas could someday help push the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether existing laws forbid discrimination on the basis of gender identity, especially because cases are now moving through states that fall under different federal appeals courts. (The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears cases that originate in North Carolina, and the 5th Circuit considers matters from Texas.)

"The 5th Circuit has been pretty amenable to lots of arguments by Texas," he said. "It could set up that kind of situation where the Supreme Court may want to take it."

Anchorage police investigating fatal shooting at gas station

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 21:36

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The Anchorage Police Department said one person is dead after a shooting Wednesday night at a Holiday gas station on Abbott Road.

A 911 caller reported the shooting just before 9 p.m., according to a police statement.

"A deceased person has been confirmed at the scene and there are believed to be no outstanding suspects at this time," the statement said. "Police are in the very early stages of an investigation and additional information will be released when it comes available."

The gas station is located on the 1500 block of Abbott Road, police said.

The DMV has a confidential database that even Anchorage police can&#39;t access

Alaska News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 20:53
Minta Montalbo, legislative liaison at the Alaska Department of Administration, said that all motor vehicles must be registered with the DMV; however, ...

States file suit in test of Obama administration&#39;s transgender bathroom policy

Alaska News - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 20:30
The officials, in states from Arizona to Georgia to Texas to Wisconsin, brought the case in U.S. District Court in Wichita Falls, Texas, and said that the ...

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