A woman who police say was sexually assaulted earlier this month by a Bristol Bay Native Corp. board member has killed herself in Naknek, the woman's family said Monday.
Sergie Andrew Chukwak, 45, sexually assaulted the woman Nov. 5 while she was incapacitated following a night of beer pong and drinking, according to charges filed Nov. 8.
The woman, 48-year-old Karen Lopez Bakken, shot herself over the weekend, said her mother-in-law, Roberta Bakken.
Roberta Bakken said she drove her grandson, a volunteer fireman, to the scene. "We were the first responders," she said.
Police learned of the death when Lopez Bakken's husband phoned police at 1:13 p.m. Sunday, said Bristol Bay Borough Police Chief Rodney Enevoldsen. Police declined to identify the victim in the alleged assault, naming her only as "K.L." in charging documents.
Enevoldsen would not say if the death appeared to be a suicide, citing an ongoing investigation.
The death complicates prosecutors' criminal case against Chukwak. The state had planned to seek an indictment on a felony rape charge against the commercial fisherman, said Assistant District Attorney Marianna Carpeneti.
Prosecutors are now evaluating the case to determine if there is enough evidence to pursue the case without victim testimony, Carpeneti said.
"The police are talking to witnesses, they're conducting their investigation. But obviously the victim's death has a significant impact on the case," Carpeneti said.
On Monday, Chukwak told a magistrate he was innocent in a teleconference hearing from a Naknek courtroom. He pleaded not guilty to a lesser, misdemeanor charge. Prosecutors can still seek a felony indictment against him, Carpeneti said.
Chukwak has been a director for Bristol Bay Native Corp. -- one of 13 Alaska regional Native corporations -- for two years, said BBNC spokeswoman Andria Agli.
The corporation is aware of the criminal case and "is evaluating appropriate actions in light of the circumstances," Agli wrote in an email.
The trouble started on a Sunday afternoon, Nov. 4, according to written statement by the borough police chief.
Chukwak and two others had come to the Naknek home of Karen Lopez Bakken and her husband Einar Bakken to play beer pong, Einar told the chief.
Einar Bakken said he passed out two or three times that night. When he woke up and headed for bed, he told police, he found Chukwak on top of his wife, according to the police statement. Karen was motionless, Einar told police.
Einar Bakken told police he pulled Chukwak off his wife and hit him at least three times in the eyes. "I thought we had a deal," Chukwak replied, Einar told police.
Einar told police that he chased Chukwak out of the house. Karen Lopez Bakken told police that she didn't remember the encounter, only that Chukwak had tried to kiss her the night before, according to the police statement.
Prosecutors filed a charge of second-degree sexual assault against Chukwak three days later.
Bristol Bay Borough Assemblyman Eddie Clark posted $5,000 bail for Chukwak, court records show. Clark could not be reached for comment Monday.
Prosecutors later amended the rape charge against Chukwak to fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor. The amendment was a measure sometimes used by rural prosecutors who are unable to put felony defendants before a grand jury in a timely manner, Carpeneti said.
In court Monday, the prosecutor said the state still planned to seek the more serious charge.
Naknek is a community of about 600 people on the northeastern end of Bristol Bay, about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage.