Savoonga carver killed by hit-and-run driver in Nome

Zaz Hollander

A 54-year-old Savoonga man, a well-known carver, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Nome as he walked down a street early Saturday morning.

The alleged driver was charged Monday with manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence.

Wagner Wongittilin was at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Bering Street when he was struck by a Ford Explorer driven by Nome resident Adrienne Michels, 30, according to Nome police. Wongittilin was reportedly walking with relatives when he was hit.

Nome police and the city's volunteer ambulance department on Saturday responded to a 1:13 a.m. report of an accident involving a pedestrian, police said. They arrived to find Wongittilin "lying in the roadway near an unoccupied SUV that had sustained recent damage to the front end," a police press release said. An ambulance took him to Norton Sound Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:04 a.m.

Michels came back to the area a short time after the incident occurred and reported the details of the collision, police said. A Nome judge on Monday issued a $50,000 warrant with a third-party custodian requirement. Police said they planned to serve the warrant on Monday.

The state Medical Examiner's Office is conducting an autopsy.

The incident occurred on one of Nome's main streets, on the west side of town.

Wongittilin's death marks a loss for the arts community as well as for the community of Savoonga, said Andrew James, who manages his family's decades-old Northwest Alaska Native art store, Maruskiya's of Nome.

James said he and his parents had worked with Wongittilin and his family members for years and expressed admiration for the carver's detail-oriented, innovative techniques -- layering baleen, for example -- as well as his character.

"What stood out about Wagner on a personal level was really his kindness and his humility," James said Monday. "He was very gentle."

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.