A group of Nikiski residents, fed up with the increase of thefts in the area, have organized a town hall meeting today to address the ongoing problem.
Elected state and local officials and candidates, law enforcement and Peninsula Crime Stoppers representatives are expected to be in attendance to discuss the lack of police coverage in the area, said Nikiski resident Ann Krogseng.
“We are the largest growing community on the peninsula and with growth comes big changes,” she said. “The hope is the community can mobilize together and collectively we can find solutions to the problem.”
Krogseng said a rash of burglaries has occurred since a break-in at M&M Market in Nikiski on Aug. 10, where an automatic teller machine was pulled out of the store and dragged down the street, in the early morning. A stolen truck used in the burglary was found burned a mile down the road, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch.
M&M Market owner Felix Martinez said in an interview shortly after the break-in that the types of crimes being committed show the need for a trooper post or expanded police coverage in Nikiski.
Two businesses, AA Dan’s Construction and Water Systems and Service Company in Nikiski reported property crimes committed on Sept. 14 to troopers. Krongseng, co-owner of AA Dan’s Construction and Toni Dyer of Water Systems and Service Company, said the stolen property and the damage have temporarily put them out of work and they are still attempting to recover from their losses.
After speaking with other members of the community who have been burglarized, Krongseng said the string of break-ins seems to have occurred on weekends. Members of the community have resorted to posting wanted posters and sharing news of thefts on Kenai Peninsula Crime Facebook page to spread awareness.
While investigating recent thefts in Nikiski, troopers arrested three Nikiski residents at a residence on Blue Jay Circle on Sunday.
Brandon Bernier, 34, of Nikiski had an outstanding arrest warrant for a parole violation. Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen couldn’t contact the arresting trooper Tuesday for details of his arrest. Krogseng said Bernier is one of two men who have warrants out for their arrest in the robbery of a Nikiski lodge on July 27.
Troopers arrested Taylor Lawler, 19, of Nikiski for hiding the wanted man. Lawler was arrested for hindering prosecution in the first-degree, C felony. If convicted, Lawler faces up to five years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines.
Kristopher Bayes, 23, of Nikiski was arrested for assault in the fourth-degree. All three were taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility.
Lawler was also involved in a July 23 disturbance where troopers responded to a disturbance at Blue Jay Circle and arrested Nathan Hanley, who troopers allege assaulted Lawler. Hanley was arrested for assault in the fourth-degree and for violating conditions of release.
On July 8, troopers arrested Hanley for allegedly stealing welding leads from J&C Construction in Nikiski and selling them to Peninsula Scrap and Salvage on Kalifornsky Beach Road, according to a police affidavit.
Kimber Smith, office manager for Peninsula Scrap and Salvage, said Hanley worked for the salvage company for three months before he was fired last summer.
Smith said they have come across several people who have attempted to sell ill-gotten scrap metal and the company works with police during investigations. If someone seems suspicious, employees ask where the person got the material. Peninsula Salvage has security cameras all over the yard, which helps police identify thieves and contractors locate stolen material, she said.
“A couple times a year we help put people in jail,” Smith said.
Hanley has been indicted on assault in the third-degree and theft in the second-degree and criminal mischief in the third-degree. All three are C felonies. Each charge carries a possible 5-year prison sentence and up to $50,000 in fines. Hanley is currently jailed at Wildwood Pretrial Facility. He is scheduled to appear in Kenai District Court today.
The nearest trooper post to Nikiski is on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna, about 22 miles, or a 30-minute drive, away.
The issue of expanding police coverage to Nikiski has been talked about for years, Krogseng said. In 2001, the North Peninsula Community Council met with Alaska State Troopers to talk about ways law enforcement could improve their service area to the north.
In 2004, Nikiski voters turned down a measure that would have created a Nikiski Law Enforcement Service Area. The proposition was defeated by almost two to one – 849 to 454.
“People didn’t want to pay the taxes for another service area,” Krogseng said. “But in the amount of time victims have had to deal with insurance companies and lost revenue I would be more than happy to pay taxes for it considering the amount of money I’ve lost is far more than the tax.”
Peninsula Crime Stoppers a local program, which started in 1983, is a community-based organization, which offers cash rewards for information that leads to the arrest of felony suspects. Anyone who has information on stolen property can go to www.peninsulacrimestoppers.com or call to submit a tip at 1-800-478-HALT.
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org