Sex assault charges dropped against Dillingham man: State prosecutors dismissed charges against Wesley P. Richard, 24, Friday, who was accused of having sexual conduct with a student enrolled at Dillingham High School. Richard was first charged with felony sex abuse of a minor in the first degree, though that was later reduced to sex abuse of a minor in the third degree, a misdemeanor, before being dismissed. In a statement issued Monday, Richard's attorney, Myron Angstman, noted many of the facts in the initial charging document couldn't be proven, including that Richard was the 15-year-old girl's teacher when he was only a substitute and had never taught a class the girl was in. Angstman said it was also learned that the girl first contacted Richard through Facebook, where she falsely identified herself as a 2010 high school graduate and said that she was married. Their brief encounter, according to Angstman, ended while both were fully clothed and as soon as the girl revealed she was a student.
Forget Southcentral Alaska snowmachining: Good-bye winter; hello whatever one calls this season of despair that has left Southcentral Alaska cold and snowless. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday joined Chugach National Forest in closing its lands to snowmachine use due to the lack of snow, which means that most of the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage is shut to one of the state's most popular winter sports. North of Alaska's largest city, it is possible to ride, but aside from trails in the Eureka and Lake Louise area of the Talkeetna Mountains, the reports sound miserable. The big thaw of January, which left open water everywhere, has refrozen. But as Susitna Landing reports, "the remaining snow on the trail is very hard packed. There is a lot of frozen overflow areas so it is very icy. Most of the swamp areas and lakes are without snow, and riding is rough everywhere. Seasoned Alaskans hope that snow will eventually come, given that this is only February. Federal agencies say Kenai snowmaching will reopen as soon as there's enough snow to protect vegetation.
TSA pre-check program comes to Fairbanks Airport: The Transportation Security Administration's pre-check program is coming to the Fairbanks International Airport, the TSA announced Monday. The pre-check lane allows for an expedited screening process, letting people keep their shoes on, as well as light outerwear and belt. They can also keep laptops and liquids in bags while going through security screening. The TSA pre-check program is available to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals or lawful permanent residents. There's an application process that includes an $85 fee and fingerprinting.
Injured snowmachiner helicoptered out of Alaska Range: A Fairbanks snowmachiner was plucked from the mountains north of Paxson after injuring himself Sunday afternoon, according to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers said their Delta Junction unit received a report of an injured snowmachiner at about 4:16 p.m. Sunday. The snowmachiner, 32-year-old Tyrel Johnson, of Fairbanks, had flipped his snowmachine "while riding up a mountain face" in The Hoodoos, a section of mountains in the Alaska Range outside Paxson, troopers said, and sustained a broken leg. Because of the location and the nature of the terrain, a helicopter was deemed necessary for the rescue. Troopers worked with the Rescue Coordination Center, which sent a Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. The helicopter returned Johnson to Anchorage where he was treated for his injuries at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
The North Slope's lakes are getting less icy: The shallow lakes that dot Alaska's North Slope are melting earlier and staying open longer, according to a study recently released in the journal The Cryosphere (pdf). The study, which used satellite-based radar to determine ice thickness, also noted that fewer of the lakes freeze all the way to the bottom than have in the past, according to a report summarizing the study by the BBC. The prevalence of more liquid water will change the ecology of the lakes, researchers said. It may also amplify an already-present trend of warmer temperatures in the region.
Nix the bridge, launch commuter rail? In a joint meeting of the Anchorage Municipality and Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assemblies, both sides seemed interested in the prospect of a commuter rail linking Anchorage and the Valley, but were divided over the future of the Knik Arm Crossing, a proposed bridge over Knik Arm, according to a report in the Frontiersman. A commuter rail system linking Anchorage with the Valley along the existing Alaska Railroad infrastructure has been discussed before, but railroad officials "really seem seriously interested at a level that I haven't seen for the past 25 years," Mat-Su Assemblymember Jim Sykes said. Discussions on a bridge across the Knik Arm seemed to divide along geographical lines, with Mat-Su lawmakers generally supportive, while some -- though not all -- Anchorage Assembymembers were more dubious about the project, according to the Frontiersman story.