Teenager dead in Southeast Alaska dune buggy wreck

Casey Grove

A teenage girl is dead after the dune buggy she was driving Thursday rolled off an embankment a few miles outside of Port Protection in Southeast Alaska, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Paulette James, 17, was reportedly not wearing a helmet, troopers said in a written statement Friday. Neither was her passenger in the buggy, Kenneth Morfeld, 58, troopers said.

James was driving on a U.S. Forest Service gravel road in the Labouchere Bay area when the buggy went off a 25-foot embankment and rolled, troopers said.

Troopers have no reason, at this point, to doubt that James was behind the wheel, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. James died in the rollover, and Morfeld suffered possible internal injuries and wounds to his arm and left leg, the troopers' statement said.

"After the wreck, Mr. Morfeld had to walk about five miles to get help," Peters said. "I am positive that was a very painful five miles."

Wrangell Search and Rescue flew Morfeld to the Wrangell Medical Center, and James' next of kin were at the crash scene and notified of her death, troopers said. Troopers arranged to have James flown to Anchorage where a medical examiner is expected to conduct an autopsy.

By law, helmets are only required for anyone under 16 per on motorcycles or ATVs like dune buggies.

Alcohol and drugs are not suspected as contributing factors to the fatal wreck, Peters said.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.