Rural Alaska

Banished man sentenced in fire deaths back in Bethel jail on heroin charge

BETHEL – A man banished from three villages this summer and recently sentenced for causing three deaths in a fire was in new trouble Thursday, this time on heroin charges.

Derek Adams, 22, is being held without bail at Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center. He refused to go to his court appearance Thursday afternoon to make an initial plea on the drug charges.

His arrest on Wednesday came just nine days after his sentencing on three homicide charges and two counts of assault before Bethel Superior Court Judge Charles Ray. He had already served his time while awaiting resolution of the case. He has mainly been out of custody since April.

But he also had 10 years of suspended time hanging over him that could be imposed if he messed up during his five years of felony probation. And, he is on probation in a second case, for shooting his father in 2012.

"The defendant was given a great opportunity by the Court to change his life, and he should have been on his best behavior. Instead, he close to ignore the conditions set by the Court," state probation officer Lynn Carlson wrote in a sworn statement seeking to revoke his probation.

[Young man blamed for 3 arson deaths in Alaska village gets traditional justice: Banishment]

Last week, Ray ordered him not to drink or use drugs while on probation, and to get residential treatment if an assessment determined he needed it.


Authorities say he didn't listen.

Just after 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Bethel Police Sgt. Jeff Lee pulled Adams over on an unregistered four-wheeler for what police called a routine traffic stop. Adams first gave the wrong name but the police knew who he was and that he was on felony probation.

The officer smelled alcohol and called Adams' probation officer. She asked that he be arrested.

A breath sample confirmed he had been drinking and a urine sample found evidence of marijuana and opiates in his system, a state trooper wrote in a sworn statement.

At the jail, Adams kept looking through his coat and pants for money and found $291. The correctional officer "thought this was odd," according to the trooper affidavit filed in court. Adams had just been in the news because of the banishments and was described in stories as homeless.

Adams was allowed to use the bathroom and take a shower at the correctional center. The area then was searched, a common practice.

Correctional officer Wilbert Larson found a small plastic bag behind the toilet under a loose base material and strip-searched Adams, investigator Todd Moehring of Alaska State Troopers wrote in his affidavit.

The officer also searched his coat, which had been placed in a property bin. He found four foil packets within a larger piece of foil inside an inner breast pocket, the trooper wrote. The correctional officer checked inside one of the bundles and saw a dark, tar-like substance.

The bag from the toilet area included two torn corners of a plastic grocery sack, one with six foil packets and the other with nine foil packets, similar to those found in the coat pocket, the trooper wrote. Each corner was numbered. These packets contained a white and brown powdery substance.

The trooper field-tested a bundle from the bathroom and one from the coat and the result indicated heroin, the trooper wrote. The bundles smelled like vinegar, which is typical since acetic acid — the sour stuff in vinegar — is a byproduct of manufacturing heroin, he said.

The amount and the way the suspected heroin was packaged suggest that Adams intended to sell it, the trooper wrote.

Adams must have snuck some of the foil packets from his coat into his pants under the guise of looking for cash, Larson wrote in an incident report filed in court. Adams must have hid them when he went to shower with the intent of retrieving them to bring into the secure side of the correctional center to sell or use, the correctional officer wrote.

The new charges against Adams are: second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, which includes dealing or possession with intent to deliver; fourth-degree drug misconduct, or possession; and promoting contraband in a correctional facility.

His continued criminal behavior is very concerning, probation officer Carlson wrote. Judge Ray had told Adams he had a chance at life, and urged him to take it for his own good and the sake of his home village of Nunam Iqua, where Adams is blamed for a house fire in 2013 that killed three including a young child. Nunam Iqua and nearby Emmonak and Alakanuk all banished him after his release in April.

"The Court's leniency has had no positive effect and the defendant has clearly demonstrated himself to be a severe danger to the community," Carlson wrote.

Usually, Ray said last week, felons on probation who fall down and return to jail do so early on.

"I didn't figure it would take long," District Attorney Michael Gray said in an email Thursday. "But didn't think it would be this quick."

Adams is scheduled to be back in court Friday morning.

Lisa Demer

Lisa Demer was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. Among her many assignments, she spent three years based in Bethel as the newspaper's western Alaska correspondent. She left the ADN in 2018.