Iditarod

“It’s the most horrifying thing that can happen to you as a musher”: Truck strike kills and injures sled dogs in Willow

UPDATE: On Friday morning, Foucher wrote on Facebook that her dog Felicity had returned home.

• • •

Jaye Foucher doesn’t know the name of the man whose truck ran through her dog-team, severing the gangline and dragging half the animals four or five truck-lengths up the Parks Highway before coming to a stop.

The collision was a series of accidents, leaving one dog dead, several injured, another loose, and Foucher distraught, reconciling with the lengthy and uncertain road to recovery ahead.

“I’m definitely running on fumes. I haven’t really been able to eat. I’m shattered,” Foucher said on Thursday. “I’m just kind of alternating between numb and devastated. It’s the most horrifying thing that can happen to you as a musher.”

She was on a training run early Wednesday afternoon in Willow, about a mile from where she and her team have been staying this winter, mushing the same trails they’ve been using since the fall. A snowmachine trail beside the highway was buried under thick snow sloughed off by recent road plowing that made it hard for her dogs to run.

“They thought it was a little too deep and decided the road looked much more appealing to them,” Foucher said.

She called them back, trying to get them off the highway. A pickup truck hauling a flat snowmachine trailer was heading toward them. Foucher frantically waved her arms at the driver to get him to stop or swerve.

“I don’t know how he didn’t see us,” she said. “He just kept barreling toward the team full blast.”

She estimates the vehicle was moving at 50 miles per hour when it tore through her line of dogs.

In the aftermath, Foucher said the older couple in the truck helped her regain control of her animals, as did another driver and other mushers who happened upon the accident. One dog was killed instantly. Others were badly injured and Foucher was desperate to get them to the nearest emergency veterinarian, an hour away, as fast as she could.

“I was also pretty hysterical,” she said.

In the commotion, she did not get the name or information of the driver, assuming he would stick around until the Alaska State Troopers arrived at the scene. She left to bring her dogs to the animal clinic.

“We have no idea who the driver of the truck was. I really wish they would come forward,” Foucher said.

An online report from the Department of Public Safety said the driver stayed to help after the accident. Alaska State Troopers had not released the name of the driver as of Thursday evening, and spokesman Austin McDaniel said no citation or charges had been filed. It wasn’t clear from his response whether troopers spoke with the vehicle owner.

Foucher was running the 11 dogs she’d planned on mushing in the upcoming Willow 300 race next week. Seven were released from the veterinary clinic on Wednesday evening, some totally unharmed and three or four with minor injuries. Two more underwent surgery overnight and remain in serious condition, including one of her main leaders, who’s tail had to be amputated and faces an uncertain mushing future. Another leader, Noddy, died at the scene. As of Thursday afternoon, a 35-pound cream-colored dog named Felicity is still loose.

“(I’m) just praying she finds her way to someone’s kennel in Willow,” Foucher said.

At her dog yard on Thursday, there was a pile of straw and food bowl beside the front door in case Felicity came back. Foucher worked hard to control raw feelings recounting Wednesday’s tragedy, but broke into tears as pointed out an empty dog house belonging to Noddy.

She is still processing what the accident means for a race season she’d long planned out. A former rock musician who lives in New Hampshire, Foucher relocated her team to Alaska to train for a rookie run at this year’s Iditarod.

“I’m just taking it a day at a time,” she said.

Donations have poured into the clinic where her dogs are being treated to cover their care. A friend set up a Go Fund Me to help pay for the future costs she’ll incur as her dogs are further rehabilitated. Someone in her native New Hampshire even sent a DoorDash delivery of coffee and donuts to the veterinary techs taking care of her team.

“I’m floored and really touched,” Foucher said.

Daily News photographer Emily Mesner contributed to this story from the Mat-Su.


Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers the military, politics, drugs, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. Prior to joining the paper he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.

Sponsored