Vehicle suspected in fatal hit-and-run found

VICTIM IDENTIFIED: Chefornak man had come to Anchorage for Easter.

April 25, 2011 

Police say they have found the vehicle they believe struck and killed a 28-year-old pedestrian early Sunday in a Midtown hit-and-run collision.

Monday afternoon, as the victim's parents made funeral arrangements, police were interviewing the owner of the vehicle. Police were still investigating and weren't ready to say more, including what kind of vehicle it was or who the driver was.

The man who died was Hubert Tunuchuk from the Western Alaska village of Chefornak. Friends and family say he was a valued hunter, fisherman and caregiver in the traditional Yup'ik community. Almost everyone called him "Lepsi," an affectionate childhood nickname that stuck.

Earlier this year, the city of Chefornak sent him to the state vocational-technical school in Seward to study power plant operations so he could return and work as a light operator, said Bernard Mael, city administrator and Tunuchuk's cousin and friend.

"He was just about to make it through. He was doing good," Mael said Monday.

Over the weekend, Tunuchuk came up to Anchorage with at least one school friend to shop and celebrate Easter, his father, also Hubert Tunuchuk, said Monday. The senior Tunuchuk and his wife, Godelieve, flew to Anchorage Sunday from the village to made arrangements for their son.

Around 3:15 a.m. Sunday, Tunuchuk was with a small group walking westbound along Tudor Road, on the Seward Highway overpass. A vehicle heading east struck him and left the scene, according to Anchorage police.

"He takes off to Anchorage. He has his little bit of weekend. And that accident occurred," Mael said.

Tunuchuk suffered head and internal injuries and was rushed to Providence Alaska Medical Center.

His family at first thought he might make it.

"He's a young man. We all know he's strong," Mael said.

Police said he was pronounced dead just before 7 a.m. Sunday.

Now Tunuchuk's extended family and village are struggling to accept that, just like that, he's gone.

He was humble and kind and never had a mean word for anyone, said his auntie, Esther Stauffer, who lives in Anchorage. He had 207 Facebook friends. His profile picture shows him in Seward, with a snowy mountain backdrop.

"He was an avid outdoorsman," Stauffer said. "He loved the outdoors. He loved to hunt and fish. Everything that Alaskans loved."

He hunted moose and caught fish and shared with the elders. He commercial fished in Bristol Bay.

He used to work for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. as a direct care provider for his brother, Dominic, who was badly burned in a fire as a young boy while trying to protect another child.

Paul Watson, who oversaw him at YKHC, said the younger Hubert did tremendously well as a caregiver, a challenging job for anyone.

The family wants to thank everyone who stopped and helped as well as the staff at Providence, Stauffer said.

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.

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