December 14, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 22
Skagway School Team Arthridroids celebrates its SE regional tournament championship in Juneau. From left in the front are Micah Cook, Madison Cox, Dawson Clem, Jessica Whitehead, and Shane Sims. In the back are coach Mary Thole, Danny Brady and C.J. Dormido. See link to feature story below.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Westmark fire ruled as arson
Not enough evidence for arrest, prime suspect no longer in Skagway
By KATIE EMMETS
After months of investigations headed by the state's Life Safety Inspection Bureau, March’s Westmark Inn 600 Wing fire, which destroyed one building and damaged another, was ruled arson.
“We were able to narrow down a suspect, and we were pretty confident that person did it,” said Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett, who aided in the investigation. “But we do not have the evidence to support that or indict the subject.”
Leggett said the suspect has since left Skagway, and added that the Fire Marshal’s office would not pursue the investigation because the person is no longer in Alaska.
According to the report filed in July by Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Plumb, the Skagway Police Department received an Early Warning System Fire Alarm from the Westmark 600 wing at 11:01 p.m. and immediately forwarded it to the Skagway Fire Department. Captain Ken Graham, who was on duty at the department that night, arrived at the Westmark Annex on the corner of Spring Street and 2nd Avenue at 11:03 p.m.
After surveying the situation, Graham asked for backup. Assistant Fire Chief Wayne Greenstreet, and firefighters John Thomas and Chris Nohrenberg were the first ones on the scene.
Plumb reported that six volunteer firefighters were working to put out the fire that night.
In an interview with Plumb, Greenstreet said firefighters suppressed the fire to a level where they didn’t think it would extend across the alley to the 500 Wing about an hour after they arrived to the building.
Three hours into fighting the fire, he said, the department used so much water that the municipal water supply was down to 10–15 percent reserve.
At 11 a.m. on March 7 firefighters had extinguished the fire in the Westmark Inn annex and in the Diamonds International building next door.
On March 9, Plumb conducted several interviews and learned that two people, Steve Moore and Chris Nohrenberg, were working in the 600 Wing replacing shower stalls the day of the fire.
After speaking to Moore and Nohrenberg, Plumb learned that they had stopped working at about 3:15 p.m. March 6.
Both of them confirmed they had been working in rooms 615, 616, 617 and 618, and the circuit breaker had been shut off before they left. Nohrenberg said the workers gained access to the rooms by the entry doors from the walkway and added that none of them were locked.
On March 10, Plumb observed room 616 had the most burn damage to the floor, with approximately eighty percent of the floor being burned away.
“By using the information from the responding firefighters, the photos taken by the Skagway News paper reporter and the appearance of the burn patterns after excavating the fire scene, the area of origin appears to have been in Room 616,” Plumb wrote.
Because electricity in Room 616 appeared to have been shut off at the circuit breaker panel, electrical causes were ruled out, he wrote.
Accidental causes were also ruled out because both Moore and Nohrenberg did not smoke, and the work they were doing March 6 didn’t involve any process or tools that would have caused a fire.
The weather was not a factor in the cause of the fire, so natural causes weren’t considered.
“I have come to the conclusion that this fire was intentionally set and that it was set shortly before 11 p.m.” Plumb wrote.
Plumb said the person who started the fire most likely gained access to Room 616 through an unlocked door.
While the method of ignition was not determined, it is highly likely that ordinary combustibles that would have been in the room were used as the initial fuel and that these were ignited with an open flame device similar to a match or lighter.
In his report, Plum wrote that he found a black lighter in the alley between the 600 and 500 wings that was photographed.
Mayor Stan Selmer stood on 2nd Avenue on March 6 watching firefighters work to put out the flames.
“We lost a building, we damaged another building and we discovered there is an end to the available water supply,” he said. “But the fire department performed admirably.”
“I am surprised at the information that it was intentionally set, and I don’t feel as if we have closure on the issue with an arrest not being made.”
Plumb said the investigation is still open, but additional information would be necessary for the department to spend time and resources furthering proceedings.
“We had a primary suspect who we were thinking was the person who did it,” Plumb said. “But we were unable to get enough evidence to charge that person.”
Though investigators were focused on only one person throughout the investigation, Plumb said, it doesn’t mean they were right.
“The innocent until proven guilty clause is pretty important here,” he said, adding that he could not release the suspect’s name because he or she was not arrested and it would therefore be defamation of character.
All suspicious fires are entered into a statewide database via the United States Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives so other Alaska deputy fire marshals can review the cases and work together to solve them.
Plumb said any additional information from members of the Skagway community would help the investigation.
“It would be quite useful if someone would come out of the woodwork with information we didn’t receive last spring,” he said.
New details in Lynch drowning
Interview revealed alcohol, drug use on board fishing boat
By KATIE EMMETS
The Alaska Department of Public Safety recently released an incident report detailing its investigation into the drowning of Haines commercial fisherman Ted Lynch near Skagway on Oct. 23.
The report reveals details told to authorities by Lynch’s deckhand and brother-in-law, Terrance Moniz.
According to Moniz’s testimony, the pair left Haines Boat Harbor at 9 a.m. in the F/V Darlin Michele and was sailing along the west wall of the Taiya Inlet.
Sometime before 12:30 p.m., Lynch reached over the boat to grab a shrimp pot, and fell overboard northwest of Burro Creek into about 160 feet of water at low tide.
When he realized Lynch was in the water, Moniz made several failed attempts to bring Lynch back into the boat.
“I threw him a ring, and he put it around him,” he said. “When I tried to pull him out, he couldn’t hold on to the ring. It slipped off of him.”
Moniz maneuvered the boat back toward Lynch and tried to grab his life jacket with a gaff hook, but he couldn’t get ahold of the vest.
Moniz repositioned the boat again, this time using a rope with the gaff hook to lasso him.
The rope fit over Lynch, but when Moniz tried to pull him into the boat, the rope broke and ripped Lynch’s life jacket off causing him to fall back into the water.
“I couldn’t find him after that,” Moniz told Vanspronsen, adding that he then made an emergency call at around 12:30 p.m.
According to the report, Moniz said both he and Lynch had been drinking alcohol, and Lynch had been smoking marijuana.
“We had quite a few to drink, actually,” Moniz said in an interview. “I am a five on a scale of one to 10. Beer, no hard stuff.”
The United States Coast Guard oversaw the search, and it requested that Moniz submit to a chemical test for alcohol within eight hours of the incident. At about 4:30 p.m., Moniz took a Department of Transportation approved saliva swab test, which gave a positive reading for an alcohol percentage of above .02 percent.
Moniz told Vanspronsen he was “freaking out” after Lynch fell overboard.
“I had calls coming in on the radio, and I had calls coming in on the phone; and I was just freaking out,” Moniz said, adding Lynch had passwords on the boat’s machinery.
Moniz said that he almost passed out while trying to pull Lynch back into the boat.
“It’s my brother-in-law, and it’s not hitting me yet,” Moniz told Vanspronsen about an hour after Lynch fell overboard. “I tried to do my best, and I tried. It kills me to see him . . . I had him on the block all three times and he slipped off the block all three times.”
Moniz, who has fished in the Bering Sea for about 12 years, had been staying with Lynch for almost a month helping him shrimp.
After interviewing Moniz, Vanspronsen searched the area and found two strings of shrimp pots with Lynch’s markings on them located on the west side of the Taiya Inlet near Burro Creek.
Other searchers recovered the life ring and located a beer can about 150 yards off shore at that location.
After Moniz made the 9-1-1 call, the U.S. Coast Guard deployed an H-60 Jayhawk helicopter and an HC-130 plane to look for Lynch while Temsco Helicopters, Skagway’s Search and Rescue team, the tug Le Cheval Rouge, and Wings of Alaska also assisted.
According to the report, the aircrafts and vessels were unable to find Lynch or find any additional clues as to his location and at 6:06 p.m., the search was suspended because of nightfall.
Lynch’s information and DNA samples, obtained from his sisters, were entered into the NamUs Missing Persons Database. The case is closed pending further leads.
Skagway residents weigh in on recycling program
By KATIE EMMETS
The Skagway Recycling Committee now has more public input to consider while creating its recycling plan, which will be completed on January 25.
More than 30 Skagway residents attended a town hall-style meeting on Dec. 4 to learn more about the proposed program and share their opinions.
SCS Engineers Marc Rogoff, who was hired to create the plan, was supposed to be at the meeting to give a presentation, take questions and discuss opinions, but he was unable to come to Skagway because of weather. Skagway Recycling Committee Chair Mark Lohnes and Skagway Borough Assembly liaison Steve Burnham Jr. ran the meeting.
Lohnes said those in attendance were concerned with three main areas of recycling: incentives, education and pilot programs.
Charlotte Jewell asked if the recycling committee has considered using incentives to reward people for recycling.
Jewell mentioned that Raven Recycling in Whitehorse gives $.05 for every bottle, which she said really adds up.
“I’m sure the local trash men could tell you when they come by the Jewell house, they don’t get a whole lot, and it’s partly because I take everything to Raven,” she said.
No matter what, she said, if someone is recycling they are saving the town money by keeping garbage out of the incinerator, and the municipality should think about rewarding them for that.
Another recycling incentive idea could be gaining access to the deciduous compost staged at Seven Pastures, Jewell said. She suggested that residents could earn credits to getting good soil by recycling, but if they didn’t recycle they would be charged for the soil.
Lohnes told Jewell that the committee had mentioned incentives with SCS Engineering briefly, but because there is not a finalized recycling plan, it has not been discussed in detail.
Rogoff talked a lot about having pilot programs, and suggested things such as incentives or composting at Seven Pastures could be part of that, Lohnes said.
“There are a lot of things we can do, but we really need to hear from the public on what they want,” Lohnes said.
Doreen Cooper said she agreed with Jewell that there should be some kind of incentive program.
Although the most recent Skagway Comprehensive Plan showed about 90 percent of residents wanting a recycling plan, Cooper said it was false information because only a small amount of people who were polled answered.
“They didn’t get many responses, and the responses they got were only from people dead set on recycling,” she said.
Cooper said she thinks positive incentives would work better than negative ones and suggested the committee bring seasonal businesses in on the plan.
“There are a lot of people who own businesses that are only here half the year,” she said. “We could really make it worth their while to invest in a recycling program whether it’s through a reduction in trash rate or something else that could reduce their costs.”
Cooper said recycling is a personal choice for her because she is concerned about the environment and the trash that is generated, but she thinks others would be drawn in if there was a direct financial benefit.
Jeff Brady said he likes the idea of bringing recycling education to the school.
Up until a few years ago, the school had separate containers for recycling, Brady said. Now, there are only trash cans in which all garbage goes in.
Brady said it aggravates him that trash generated during a school basketball game all goes into the same container instead of having a recycling option for waste.
“I’d imagine it’s 50/50 recycling participation in town,” he said. “So until we start (at the school) it’s not going to happen anywhere else.”
Lohnes said SSC and the recycling committee have about six to seven weeks before the final plan is complete.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he told the assembly last week.
Lohnes and Burnham will relay the information gained from the town hall meeting to Rogoff who will work to complete the recycling plan by January 25. At that time, additional details, such as savings and costs, will be available.
• SCHOOL FEATURE: Skagway School's Team Arthridroids robotics champions of SE Alaska
SCOPING SANTA OUT – One-year-old Skyler Cosgrove peers cautiously over at Santa Claus on his first Santa Train ride while happy mom Rin Clark looks on. See many more Santa Train and Yuletide photos in our December print editions. Katie Emmets
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete report in print edition)
Pocket of fuel oil found during Small Boat Harbor project
The Municipality of Skagway and White Pass & Yukon Route will be discussing how to proceed with the 100-cubic yards of oily sediment found at the Skagway Small Boat Harbor on November 13.
While doing work on the harbor project, Hamilton Construction employees found a pocket of diesel fuel suspended in gravel near the loading ramp located west of the harbormaster’s office.
“(Interim) Manager Tom Healy has put White Pass on notice, and we expect their involvement in dealing with a resolution toward this matter,” said Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer.
Selmer said the oil came from an operation that WP&YR owned, which fueled the ferry system. The tanks were located east of the harbor near the railroad tracks, and fuel lines ran under the ground to a holding area near the ferry terminal.
The diesel came from two fuel lines that were partially removed and partially sealed when the fuel business ended and was transferred to the west side of the waterfront.
Selmer said the fuel was trapped by gravel, so it was unable to travel anywhere or get into the water.
Hamilton Construction workers moved the 100 cubic yards of oily sediments to a new bio cell on company owner Jeffrey Hamilton’s property, where it will be held until further notice.
“I am confident there is no additional transient oil in the harbor sediment, and we should have no more surprises,” he said.
Assembly considers teleconferencing as way to meet quorum during emergency meetings
The Skagway Borough Assembly on Dec. 6 passed the first reading of an ordinance that could allow the assembly to establish a quorum for emergency meetings via teleconference. The ordinance would also allow up to two assembly members to participate in an executive session if they are attending the meeting on the phone.
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer said the idea for allowing absent members to contribute to a quorum by phoning in first began on October 27, when areas of Southeast Alaska were under a tsunami warning.
Selmer said even if the assembly needed to hold an emergency meeting to discuss proceedings for the natural disaster, it couldn’t because not enough members were in town to establish a quorum.
If passed, the ordinance would allow four assembly members to be present physically or telephonically to establish a quorum during an emergency meeting.
The ordinance would also change executive session rules.
As the municipal code is written, assembly members joining a meeting by teleconference are not allowed to stay on the phone during executive sessions.
During mayor and assembly discussion on the ordinance, Selmer said assemblymen can attend the meeting by teleconference, get paid for attending the meeting by teleconference, and can vote on motions while attending by teleconference, but they are not allowed to discuss important municipal matters by teleconference during executive sessions. Selmer added that the borough attorney, borough lobbyist and others pertinent to matters discussed can currently attend executive sessions by teleconference.
First reading of Ordinance No. 12-17 passed unanimously with Dan Henry attending the meeting via teleconference. Second reading will be Dec. 20. – KE
STUDENTS ON STAGE – Top row scenes from the school play, "A Final Dress Rehearsal." Bottom row scenes from the Christmas program, "A Christmas Carol." Jeff Brady and Katie Emmets
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Changes ahead for Skagway School staff
In a December 5 Skagway School Board meeting, members discussed recent changes that will affect the 2013-2014 school year’s staff and curriculum.
Last month the school received nearly $450,000 from the Skagway Borough Assembly as part of a federal Title 3D fund earmarked for school education. Middle school teacher Joanne Trozzo also has notified the board she will resign at the end of the school year after 34 years of teaching.
“The Tongass National Forest receipt money kind of opened up some options for us,” said board President Stuart Brown.
After polling students and teachers, Brown said, the general consensus favored the return of a high school science teacher.
Last year the board voted to do away with the science teacher position for the 2012-2013 school year after the expiration of a temporary science teacher’s contract and a decrease in school enrollment and funding.
Brown also said the board plans to upgrade its technology department to include more advanced levels of computer science and technical construction. Curriculum could include computer program design and shop class.
Another change to the curriculum will come in the form of a new foreign language program.
For years, Skagway School has been using the Rosetta Stone program, which parents and board members have been complaining about due to its lack of interaction with an instructor.
This spring, Skagway School will switch to Global Language Network, which will require students to speak to a certified teacher for an hour each week.
Brown said the school would be looking to fill the middle school teaching position for the 2013-2014 school year. – KE