Facebook study shows 'dead heat' in Alaska's Senate race: Can Facebook predict who will win an election? Some think it can, according to an analysis by published Monday by Politico magazine. By judging campaigns' effectiveness via the social media site by looking at "likes" and fan engagement, two Ph.D. candidates at UMass Amherst who partner in political communications firm MSE, claim they were able to accurately predict winners in eight out of nine toss-up U.S. Senate races in 2012, based on which campaigns were more likely to receive a "Facebook bump" on election day. Now they turned to this year's races, looking at campaigns in four key Senate elections -- including Alaska. According to their Facebook metrics, incumbent Mark Begich is in a "dead heat" with either Republican opponent Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell or 2010 GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller. Notably missing is any reference to Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.
Inmate convicted in officer assault: An Anchorage Correctional Complex inmate serving a 199-year sentence for double homicide was convicted Tuesday for assaulting a correctional officer. In September 2012, 27-year-old James Coven assaulted an officer at the jail, fracturing the officer's jaw and nose, breaking multiple teeth and giving him a concussion. Deputy district attorney Clint Campion wrote in a press release that the assault happened when the officer wouldn't let Coven make a phone call and ordered the inmate back into his cell. Rather than complying, Coven punched the officer in the head. The officer fell to the ground and Coven repeatedly kicked him until other personnel came to his aid. A jury found Coven guilty of first- and second-degree assault.
Fatal commercial vehicle wreck near Homer: Alaska State Troopers say a 29-year-old Soldotna man died in a vehicle wreck after being ejected from his vehicle Wednesday morning near mile 9.5 of East End Road. An investigation found Trevor Cunningham was headed for Homer when his commercial vehicle overturned and its "tank separated from its frame," according to a trooper dispatch. Cunningham was ejected from the vehicle. He was transported to a hospital in Homer and pronounced dead. The vehicle was hauling drilling mud, some of which spilled during the crash onto the roadway. Multiple agencies worked together to set up precautions on the road and continue the fatal wreck's investigation.
Sterling man pleads guilty to child porn: A 56-year-old Sterling man pleaded guilty to one consolidated count of child pornography Tuesday in Kenai. Investigators allegedly found more than 20 child porn movies on the computer of Michael Padilla, who was already registered as a sex offender following a 2002 conviction, the Peninsula Clarion reported. Padilla told an investigator he keeps his room locked, his computer is password protected and he is the only one with access to it. He was originally charged with 21 counts of distribution of child pornorgraphy, as well as four counts of possession, all felonies. Sentencing calls for a mandatory minimum 12 years of jail time and six years of probation. Padilla will likely be older than 65 when he is released, his defense attorney told the Clarion.
Mark's map quest: Sen. Mark Begich explains Alaska to the Washington Post: "A state this big and this rural has a set of issues hard to imagine. We can have wind forces of 120 miles per hour, and we'll just call it a Tuesday." The Post featured a profile of Begich and his re-election campaign Wednesday, making heavy mention of his unrelenting campaign to object whenever a mapmaker portrays the Lower 48 and forgets Alaska. "Leaving us off the map is just a sign that people don't understand the importance of our state," Begich said.
First sunrise for Barrow: Wednesday marks the first sunrise in Barrow, the northernmost settlement in the United States, since Nov. 18, 2013. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, the sun will rise in the south at 1:28 p.m. and remain above the horizon for 23 minutes before setting at 1:51 p.m. -- also in the south -- giving the 4,346 people who live in the North Slope hub village 23 minutes of daylight. The current weather forecast calls for cloudy conditions and scattered snow showers.
Alaska skiers named to Olympic team: The Bjornsen siblings are heading to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Eric Bjornsen, 22, was added to the Nordic ski team Wednesday morning. His sister Sadie Bjornsen, 24, had already qualified for the team, along with fellow Alaska skiers Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks, both 31. All of the Alaska skiers train with the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center. Also among Alaska's Olympic athletes: slopestyle competitor Ryan "Razzle Dazzle" Stassel, who was named to the men's snowboarding team this week.
Soldotna man draws gun-smuggling sentence: An Alaska man was sentenced to time served, plus a hefty fine, after an attempt to smuggle several guns into Canada earlier this month. According to a report from the Estevan Mercury of Saskatchewan, Soldotna resident Jeffery Leo Webster was arrested on Jan. 10 after Canadian Border Services Agency officers found two handguns, two replica handguns and three long guns during a search of his vehicle at the North Portal Saskatchewan border crossing. Webster, 55, pleaded guilty to smuggling charges in a Regina, Saskatchewan court, and was sentenced to four days time served plus a fine of $6,000. The Mercury report does not address the disposition of the seized firearms, but a site for the U.S. Embassy in Canada informs cross-border travelers that "Canadian law requires that officials seize firearms and weapons from those crossing the border who deny having them in their possession. Seized firearms and weapons are never returned." Canadian law does allow transport of firearms, including to and from Alaska, but requires travelers to declare them using forms specific to firearms.