No extra security planned as Iditarod nears Nome finish

  • By Mark Thiessen
  • Monday, March 14, 2016 10:27pm
  • News

NOME — No extra security is planned at the finish line of the world’s most famous sled dog race, just days after a man on a snowmobile purposely drove at a high speed into two mushers’ teams, killing one dog and injuring several others.

Nome officials on Monday said they plan normal security measures as this Bering Sea coastal community celebrates the end of the nearly 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska, an event Mayor Richard Beneville has compared to “Mardi Gras with dogs.”

“I’m alarmed and upset and saddened, but I don’t think this is a cause for a movement,” Beneville said Monday inside the Polar Cafe, which offers diners views of the frozen Bering Sea.

Beneville, wearing an “Iditarod” stocking cap, called the attacks on mushers Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King an aberration.

Stan Hooley, the chief executive officer for the race, also said he sees this as a very isolated case. “I don’t see that carrying over to the finish here in Nome,” he said.

The winner is expected into Nome sometime early Tuesday morning. Three-time winner Dallas Seavey was the first musher to leave the checkpoint in White Mountain, 39 minutes ahead of two-time winner Mitch Seavey, who is also his father. Brent Sass was third out of the checkpoint, where mushers must take an eight-hour rest before the last 77-mile stretch to Nome.

The crash happened early Saturday morning near the checkpoint in Nulato.

Arnold Demoski of Nulato is accused of intentionally driving a snowmobile into Zirkle’s team and then the team of four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King. One of King’s dogs, Nash, was killed, and at least two other dogs were injured.

Demoski has said he was returning home from a night of drinking when he struck the teams. He was going about 100 mph when he crashed into King’s team and about 40 mph when he struck Zirkle’s team, court documents say.

He was charged with assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. His bail was set at $50,000, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Fairbanks District Court Magistrate Dominick DiBenedetto said during Sunday’s hearing that if the allegations are proven true, they could amount to an act of terrorism. DiBenedetto also said he would have likely approved bail that 10 times the amount requested, KTVA-TV reported.

Demoski’s attorney, Bill Satterberg, declined comment to The Associated Press on Monday.

The end of the Iditarod is a huge economic driver in this community of about 3,600. Many events are tied to race.

Among them is a huge arts and crafts sale, where Summer Larsen was selling homemade soaps and creams. She said the crash appears to be an isolated incident and isn’t casting a pallor over the finish.

“It’s disappointing to hear, for sure, but I don’t think it’s specific to the race, really,” said Larsen, who moved to Nome 20 years ago from Kona, Hawaii. “I think it’s just an issue of alcohol and bad judgment.”

Nome Police Chief John Papasodora said it will be “all hands on deck” for his force when the mushers begin to hit town, but that’s normal every year.

“I don’t anticipate anything on this end that we’re going to run into,” he said. “It’s a historical event, but it’s also a cultural event since it’s been going on for so long. So I’d be very, very surprised if we had an incident similar to that.”

When a musher is one mile outside of Nome, the town’s siren sounds, alerting people to head to the finish line. Among the 500 or 600 people at the finish line are people who pour out of the downtown bars, which stay open until 5 a.m.

“The intoxicated folks that are imbibing at the local establishments could be more numerous if it finishes in the early morning hours like it did last year,” the chief said. “If it finishes during the day, then we usually don’t have that many problems.”

Within three blocks of the finish line are six bars and three liquor stores. Even City Hall, which is right at the finish line, is the former site of The Dexter bar and was owned by Wyatt Earp — of the Gunfight-at-the-OK-Corral fame — during Nome’s gold rush days.

Once the musher gets off the Bering Sea and travels the short way onto Nome’s Front Street, it also picks up a police cruiser as an escort. The cruiser stays with the musher until a few blocks from the finish line, where officers on foot patrol will take over crowd control.

Papasodora said they want to make sure everything remains orderly, everyone stays safe, the mushers can finish and everybody has a good time. “We’ll have as many personnel as possible to make sure we achieve those goals,” he said.

Hooley, the race’s CEO, also doesn’t see the bar fans as a distraction.

“I think, if anything, the crowds may be a little more vocal and lively and animated, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the finish of this race,” he said.

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