A Trapper Creek lodge employee was fatally stabbed by a coworker Monday morning as he ate breakfast in a restaurant with other employees nearby who ended up trying to help the victim as others restrained the suspect, charges say.
Alaska State Troopers were called to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge just after 10 a.m. for a report of a stabbing.
Once on scene, they learned that 21-year-old Jose Torres-Ayala of Florida had been stabbed by 33-year-old Michael Melendez inside the 20,320 Alaskan Grill restaurant, according to a sworn affidavit written by troopers investigator Adam Hawkins. Torres-Ayala was a server at the restaurant and Melendez was a dishwasher there, although he had recently been transferred to a different restaurant at the lodge, an employee told troopers.
There are two restaurants, a coffee shop and bar in the 460-room lodge located in Denali State Park at Mile 133 of the Parks Highway.
Melendez was arrested on charges of first- and second-degree murder. As of Wednesday afternoon, he was in custody at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility and being held on bail set at $1.75 million, according to an online court database.
The criminal charges filed this week didn’t provide any information about what might have led to the stabbing. Melendez told investigators only that he wanted to talk to an attorney, the affidavit said.
Other employees described different interactions with Melendez just before the stabbing occurred, according to the affidavit. One described an “odd look in his eyes” and said he “just stared at him for several seconds,” Hawkins wrote, while another said Melendez tapped her on the shoulder and told her he was “good” when she asked how he was doing.
That employee saw him walk to where Torres-Ayala was eating, which was when the employee said she heard screaming and saw Melendez stab Torres-Ayala, according to the affidavit.
People followed Melendez after he walked out of the restaurant, the affidavit said. A nurse visiting from Texas saw the commotion and tried to help Torres-Ayala, according to the affidavit. He was moved to Mile 128 of the Parks Highway so medical responders could reach him more quickly.
Torres-Ayala was medevaced to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the affidavit said.
A manager arrived in her vehicle as Melendez was walking away and told investigators that she observed that “chaos was happening at the restaurant” and people were pointing at a man who was fleeing and saying he’d stabbed Torres-Ayala, the affidavit said. The woman stopped Melendez, whom she said she didn’t know personally but recognized as an employee.
Lodge employees detained Melendez and zip-tied his hands while they waited for law enforcement, according to the affidavit. Troopers identified him by a Hawaii ID card, but they do not believe that is where he most recently lived, according to spokesman Austin McDaniel. Melendez was not an Alaska resident, McDaniel said.
In an emailed statement, Princess Cruise Lines extended condolences to those affected by the death.
“We understand that this incident has deeply affected everyone in our lodge community, and we want to assure all guests, employees, and others in our extended Princess family that we are cooperating fully with law enforcement in their investigation,” the statement said.