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Rape victim in rural Alaska kills herself in wake of assault, family says

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

Correction: The following report originally, and incorrectly, said that police reported cause of death to be suicide when it was actually a family member who first said it. We regret the error and have changed the text below.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, a woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted in the Alaska village of Naknek earlier this month has committed suicide. Prosecutors charge that 45-year-old Sergie Andrew Chukwak, a board member on Bristol Bay Native Corp., sexually assaulted Karen Lopez Bakken, 48, after a night of drinking and playing beer pong.

Bakken shot herself over the weekend, according to her mother-in-law, Roberta Bakken.

The state's pursuit of an indictment on a felony rape charge is now complicated by her death. Prosecutors must decide whether enough evidence exists to continue the case against Chukwak without her testimony.

"The police are talking to witnesses, they're conducting their investigation. But obviously the victim's death has a significant impact on the case," assistant District Attorney Marianna Carpeneti told the Anchorage Daily News.

Chukwak told a magistrate he was innocent during a hearing Monday.

Alaska has the highest suicide rate in the nation. The rates are often much higher in certain regions, such as in Western Alaska, where it’s been seven times as high as the national average, and among certain age groups, including Alaska Native teens and young adults. It’s an epidemic that many people are working to change.

Naknek is a city of around 600 people, located 300 miles southwest of Anchorage, at the northeastern end of Bristol Bay. Read more.