A dozen Alaska State Troopers arrested a fugitive Kiana man floating down the Squirrel River in a stolen raft Thursday afternoon, two days after he allegedly shot two hunters at a cabin upriver, troopers said.
According to troopers, Teddy Kyle Smith fled from Kiana on Sept. 7, after the suspicious death of his mother and an incident in which he fired a gun at residents of the Northwest Alaska village. About 10 days passed while Smith, a 45-year-old promising movie actor, remained missing. Then, Tuesday night, he allegedly shot two hunters who stopped at a cabin at the confluence of the Squirrel and Omar rivers, troopers said.
Michigan resident Chuck Buckel was hit in the chest, and his brother, Paul Buckel, from Kotzebue, in the arm, according to a guiding service that flew the hunters into the field. A spokeswoman for Providence Alaska Medical Center said both men were listed in fair condition.
Troopers flew over the winding, tree-lined Squirrel River on Wednesday and located a raft Smith allegedly stole from the two hunters about 35 miles upriver from Kiana. Twelve troopers, including five members of the Northern Special Emergency Response Team, flew in aircraft and rode in boats Thursday morning to a spot about 16 river miles from the village, where they waited.
At about 2:45 p.m., they saw Smith floating down the river in the raft, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
"We were staged along the river, and he came to us," Peters said by phone from Anchorage. "No shots fired . . . There was no struggle at all. He saw us and we took him into custody. No problem, no fight."
Peters said late Thursday she did not know if Smith was armed. The troopers near Kiana were arranging to transport Smith to a jail in Kotzebue, 57 miles to the west. He is charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of theft, one count of robbery and one count of misconduct involving a weapon.
Troopers have not named a suspect in the death of Smith's mother, Dolly Smith, nor have they said whether investigators believe Teddy Smith was involved.
Dolly Smith, 74, was found dead under "suspicious" circumstances at her home, but trooper spokespersons have declined to describe those circumstances. It's unclear how her death was reported, but when first responders arrived, Smith was there. He had apparently been drinking, and he fired a shot at the group that sent at least four people ducking for cover, a trooper captain, Barry Wilson, told the Daily News after the incident.
Wilson said that a short time later a group of troopers had gone to Kiana and searched for Smith. One trooper remained in the village after the larger team failed to find him, Wilson said.
When asked if the troopers could have done more in their early attempts to catch Smith, Peters, the troopers spokeswoman, said Thursday her agency had a "very strong presence" in Kiana after the alleged assault.
Could better warnings for people in the area or a more intense search effort to catch Smith have prevented the hunters from being shot 10 days later?
Peters said answering that question wouldn't be possible until troopers had a chance to review the case. For now, she said, the troopers consider their response to have been appropriate.
"You have to look at each situation as it happens, what our resources are, where we're stationed, what other things are going on in the state," Peters said.
But Eli Cyrus, vice mayor of Kiana, said some residents felt like the troopers had not kept them sufficiently informed of the unfolding situation.
"A lot of the community members were concerned. They weren't sure what was happening with the search," Cyrus said. "There was concern in the community about friends and relatives going out caribou hunting and this guy not having been caught, that they might be harmed."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News