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Alaska author and activist Rick Leo killed in crash

Zaz Hollander,Devin Kelly

Rick Leo, a 61-year-old Trapper Creek resident and author known for his environmental activism, died Monday morning in a collision with a shuttle bus on a snow-slicked highway near Talkeetna, Alaska State Troopers said.

The collision occurred around 8 a.m. on the Talkeetna Spur Road, which leads from the Parks Highway into Talkeetna.

Leo was southbound in a 1997 Saturn with four dogs inside when he lost traction and slid into oncoming traffic, trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said. A white Ford shuttle bus owned by the Sunshine Community Health Center and driven by Garry M. Cook, 39, of Talkeetna, was in the opposite lane.

As Leo's car slid sideways, the shuttle "T-boned" it on the passenger side, Ipsen said.

The dogs in the car also died.

Emergency responders spent more than 45 minutes attempting CPR at the scene, borough and Talkeetna emergency officials said. Initial reports described the victim as unconscious and not breathing, Mat-Su emergency services director Dennis Brodigan said. The two drivers were the only people in the vehicles.

Cook, the bus driver, was not injured, Troopers said.

Leo, who lived in Trapper Creek for more than 30 years and chaired the local community council, worked on numerous environmental issues, most recently the campaign opposing the state's proposal to build the Watana Dam on the Susitna River.

News of his death Monday afternoon stunned members of the Susitna River Coalition, where Leo was a board member.

"We're just trying to digest this," said Mike Wood, president of the coalition. "He was a good human."

Leo was a founding member of the Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives, which became the Susitna River Coalition, Wood said. Leo was president of the coalition until about two months ago.

In recent weeks, the coalition acquired a new name, expanded the size of its board and on Friday launched a new website, Wood said.

"He created a life beyond his own with this," Wood said.

A Harvard graduate, Leo wrote "Edges of the Earth: A Man, a Woman, a Child in the Alaskan Wilderness" about his young family's move to Alaska. He also spent about six years writing a column in the 1980s for the "We Alaskans" magazine, a Sunday supplement to the Anchorage Daily News.

His columns focused on life in Trapper Creek, where he had built a cabin, and he had strong opinions on stewardship issues in his community, former editor George Bryson said.

It was a far cry from his earlier life. He was born in Chicago and moved to Alaska in 1981 from New York City. He occassionally recalled life in New York in his columns, a time when subway riders still knew which line they were using -- IRT, BMT or IND, nostalgic names that are all but forgotten now.

Another book, titled "Way Out Here: Modern Life in Ice-Age Alaska," included the following observation:

"Our genetic dispositions have a basis here -- dispositions to dominate and to herd together for the sake of survival, to wander alone in hope of revelation, instinctively to seek more in order to allay fear of scarcity, and to stand silently, if only for a moment, in humility, and awe at all that exists beyond ourselves."

His survivors include his two sons, Janus and Forrest Leo.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317. Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.

 


By ZAZ HOLLANDER and DEVIN KELLY
Anchorage Daily News