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Iditarod musher was 'grabbed inappropriately' by snowmachiners on Yukon River

A third musher was allegedly assaulted on the Iditarod Trail last month, a day after a snowmachine crashed into two top contenders in the race.

In a press release from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Friday, race marshal Mark Nordman wrote that rookie musher Sarah Stokey of Seward reported to a race judge in Nulato on March 13 that she had been "grabbed inappropriately" by two men on snowmachines on the trail leading into the Yukon River village.

Nordman stated the men were stopped next to the trail on snowmachines and gave Stokey the impression they wanted to give her a high-five, according to the press release. The incident occurred as she passed by.

The race judge contacted Nordman, who was stationed in Unalakleet, the release said. He immediately contacted state troopers in Galena and told race staff in Galena and Ruby of the incident and to alert other mushers of the situation.

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters confirmed troopers had received "some sort of information regarding a potential incident that occurred on the trail." Galena trooper James Lester was off-duty Friday and Saturday and unavailable to answer questions.

Nordman stated the Iditarod Trail Committee knows of "no other incidents." News of Stokey's encounter was first reported by Alaska journalist Craig Medred on Thursday.

In a text message Saturday, Stokey said she did not share details of what occurred with Medred and was "extremely disappointed" he did not respect her request for privacy. In a response to Stokey on his blog, Medred said he was sorry Stokey felt that way, but defended his decision to report on the incident. "After a lot of other interviews and careful consideration," Medred wrote, "... I made a news decision and decided the story should be written. That's what journalists do. I stand by the decision."

Stokey praised the Iditarod for not issuing a public statement during the race, saying such a statement would have brought unnecessary attention and would have been a "huge emotional distraction."

"The sensation that this has caused has only reaffirmed my belief that things were properly handled at the time," she wrote.

She added the Iditarod "continues to be extremely supportive" in figuring out ways to improve musher safety.

"I am extremely satisfied with how things were handled," she wrote. "... I would rather focus on the many positive aspects of my 2016 race and the many encounters of kindness and generosity that I experienced on the trail."

The encounter marks the third incident on the Iditarod trail between Galena and Nulato during the 2016 race. Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle separately reported a snowmachiner repeatedly tried to hit them as they traveled on the trail to Nulato. Both teams were hit, resulting in the death of Nash, a 3-year-old dog on King's team.

Arnold Demoski, 26, was arrested in connection with the crime later that day. He pleaded not guilty, though he told Alaska Dispatch News he was driving drunk when the incident occurred.

Zirkle went on to finish third and King ninth. Stokey finished 66th.

According to the Friday press release, all three incidents were discussed with the Iditarod Official Finishers Club in Nome as part of its annual meeting. Nordman stated "further discussion" among the finishers club, Iditarod Trail Committee and various agencies will occur in the coming months.

Stokey said Saturday she will be part of that conversation.

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