A 57-year-old Mountain Village woman died in her sleep Monday after drinking too much homemade liquor, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Mountain Village resident Ramona Rose Waskey was last seen alive at about 2 a.m., said Sgt. Aaron Mobley. She fell asleep and was reported dead at 11:45 a.m.
"She aspirated her stomach content, which clogged her airway," Mobley wrote in a trooper report posted online. No foul play is suspected.
Many Lower Yukon River villages outlaw alcohol but have long struggled with homebrew abuse as residents improvise high-powered and unpredictable liquors from yeast, water and sugar.
"It's basically the PCP of alcohol," Mobley said. "You don't know what it's going to do to you or how it's going to affect you."
The rate of alcohol-induced deaths in the Western Alaska census area that includes Mountain Village is more than 60 percent higher than the statewide rate, according to the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. That includes liver disease and alcohol poisoning, among other causes, but not violent deaths such as alcohol-fueled car accidents or suicide.
The Yup'ik community of about 830 people banned the sale and importation of alcohol in 1984, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Residents voted down a proposal to lift the ban in 2010, said city mayor Joyce Brown-Rivers. That proposal called for Mountain Village to become a "damp" community, meaning no one could open a bar or liquor store in the village, but residents could order a limited amount of alcohol each month.
At the time of the vote, as many as a dozen people were making illegal homebrew in what amounted to mini-breweries, a petition sponsor told the Daily News. Brown-Rivers said the problem appears to have worsened in recent years.
"It's all over. All over the rural villages," she said.
Mobley, the trooper sergeant, said he couldn't say much more about the details of Waskey's death, given the ongoing investigation. It was the latest in a string of tragic deaths this year in the region, he said.
Among them: An 8-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his sister April 30 in Mountain Village, according to troopers. A woman was killed in a high-speed ATV accident May 7 in nearby Alakanuk. A trooper spokeswoman said the death appeared alcohol-related because rescuers detected the smell of alcohol.
Mobley is based in St. Marys, a damp community about 16 miles upriver from Mountain Village. It was snowing there Tuesday, he said.
"I just arrested a guy today," Mobley said. "He said the reason why we've had so much cold weather is that the elders say it's because we've had so many deaths."