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Nulato man faces 12 charges in snowmachine collisions with Iditarod teams

The snowmachiner who struck Iditarod musher Jeff King's team near Nulato Saturday was traveling at a high rate of speed when he hit the four-time race champion's dogs -- killing one of them and sending at least one other to Anchorage with a broken bone -- according to court documents filed Sunday.

Arnold Demoski, 26, is also accused of attacking musher Aliy Zirkle's team earlier Saturday morning, injuring one of her dogs. He appeared in Fairbanks District Court via video Sunday afternoon, charged with two felony counts of third-degree assault, as well as six counts of fifth-degree criminal mischief, three counts of reckless driving and one count of reckless endangerment.

Demoski appeared by video from the Fairbanks Correctional Center and said little during the afternoon hearing, other than that he had received a copy of the complaint.

His bail was set at $50,000, but Magistrate Romano DiBenedetto said that if prosecutors had asked for bail 10 times that amount, he probably would have granted it.

The judge said nothing has been proven and that press interest is irrelevant to his decision, but "if these allegations are proven to a jury, it could amount to be an act of terrorism, quite frankly."

"If the state had asked for $500,000, I probably would have granted it, but I am not the prosecutor. I will honor the state's request for a $50,000 cash performance bond," he said.

Demoski spoke with Alaska Dispatch News on Saturday and said he was driving drunk when he hit the teams and asked the community of Nulato to forgive him. Investigating troopers, however, said that he had refused to speak with them.

Zirkle's injured dog had to be left behind in Nulato due to bruising suffered during the two attacks on her team, with the first occurring along the Yukon River roughly 5 miles out of Koyukuk.

"Demoski came speeding up, hit the side of her sled and flipped two of her dogs," Alaska state trooper Robert Nunley wrote in an affidavit. "Demoski went by on the snowmachine at about 40 miles per hour."

Nunley said Demoski came about, frightening Zirkle.

"(S)he grabbed a race marker that she held out in front of her towards the snowmachine, which then turned and headed away from her towards Nulato," Nunley wrote.

Roughly an hour later, about 12 miles from Nulato, Zirkle saw Demoski approach again, Nunley wrote.

"He passed close by Zirkle at about 50 miles an hour and started spinning brodies and was going in circles like he was trying to figure out what to do," Nunley wrote. "He stopped about 200 yards away and was revving his engine causing Zirkle to be in fear he was trying to kill her before he drove off."

King's team lost one of its lead dogs, Nash, when troopers say Demoski drove into it on his snowmachine about 10 miles above Nulato. Nunley said a second dog was critically injured, with two more removed from the race "due to their injuries from the impact;" a fifth dog from King's team also suffered injuries, but was still able to race.

"Demoski was traveling at approximately 100 miles an hour when he collided with Jeff King's dog team," Nunley wrote. "Demoski did not slow down at all and continued on down the river toward Nulato."

Evidence from the collision with King was crucial in linking the attack to Demoski's snowmachine.

"King recovered the cowling from Demoski's snowmachine that came off when it collided with his team," Nunley wrote. "I observed the cowling recovered by Jeff King matched the parts that were missing from Arnold Demoski's snowmachine and the front bumper was dented on the snowmachine."

Representing Demoski at the hearing in Fairbanks Sunday, attorney Bill Satterberg asked for bail of $5,000 and that Demoski be released to the custody of his father, Peter Demoski, who was in the courtroom and is set to be in Fairbanks for the week. He disagreed with DiBenedetto's statement about Demoski's alleged actions amounting to a possible act of terrorism in the eyes of a jury.

"The court has said that it's not pandering to the press and I'll accept your statement, but needless to say I don't think it's an act of terrorism," Satterberg said.

Satterberg said he had a hard time understanding the "factual basis" for the six misdemeanor criminal mischief charges. The magistrate denied Satterberg's motion to have those charges dismissed for lack of probable cause.

Demoski would remain in Fairbanks this week and return to the village at the end of the week.

"Presumably by then the racers will have all passed Nulato," Satterberg said. He also said they will talk about "getting him into some programs and things like that."

"Despite the exposure and the press and everything else, it would seem to me that the bail should still be set at a reasonable amount, such as $5,000," Satterberg said.

Prosecutor Bill Spiers asked for a "host of conditions that will keep him south of the Yukon River."

"Bail needs to be very high in this case," he said. "This is probably the most senseless thing I've seen since Danny Lewis shot the pipeline," he said, referring to a 2001 incident in which a man shot a hole in the trans-Alaska pipeline.

"The people who are running the Iditarod need to be confident that this man will remain in jail while this race is going on," he said.

Both Zirkle and King are still in the race, with race standings showing Zirkle's 13-dog team in third out of Shaktoolik at 12:52 p.m. Sunday. King's 11-dog team was out of Unalakleet at 1:06 p.m. Sunday in 12th place.