Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Kenny Merkes (left) and his neighbor Tommy Patterson (right) visit the site of an attempted theft of Merkes' boat motor on Wednesday Aug. 12, 2015 on Moose River in Sterling, Alaska. Two men in a yellow canoe attempted to take the boat motor before abandoning it in the canoe and fleeing into the woods near Moose River.

Sterling homesteaders seek would-be thieves

When two unidentified men tried to make off with Kenny Merkes’ boat motor late Monday night, his first instinct was to jump into Moose River after them.

Merkes, whose property on Moose River has been in his homesteading-family since 1959, said he lent a boat motor to his friend, Tommy Patterson, who lives across the river. Patterson went to Merkes’ house to give him they key for the lock he planned to put on the motor. Upon returning to his property and the boat just before 11:45 p.m., he saw two men in a yellow canoe paddling away with the motor.

The motor and the yellow canoe have been recovered, but the would-be thieves have yet to be found.

“As I’m driving down there, I see something’s not right,” Patterson said. “Then all of a sudden this canoe takes off; these guys are just kicking butt.”

Patterson said the men began canoeing across the river toward Merkes’ residence, so he called his friend to warn him about the attempted theft before calling the Alaska State Troopers. Upon reaching his boat launch and finding the men with his motor, Merkes jumped into the river in an attempt to stop them.

“I’m the house getting ready to go to bed, and (Tommy) calls me,” Merkes said. “So my wife and my pregnant daughter and I go down my board walk right as they’re pulling in. I set my phone down and dive in after them, my daughter and my wife are sitting there screaming at them… I’m in the water, six inches away from flipping them.”

Unable to reach the canoe on his own, Merkes started his boat and joined Patterson on the river chasing the two men until they beached the canoe about one hundred yards up the river on a neighbor’s property. Merkes said the men left the motor and the canoe and ran up through the neighbor’s yard, taking cover in the woods.

Alaska State Troopers, or AST, received Patterson’s call about the attempted theft at 11:42 p.m., according to a trooper dispatch. Patterson said they responded quickly and helped search the area for the men. AST Public Information Officer Megan Peters said in an email that AST asked Wildlife Troopers to recover the canoe. It has since been impounded.

Peters said the case is open, and troopers will continue to investigate as information about the incident becomes available.

The other residents along Moose River have been helpful in trying to track down the would-be thieves, Merkes said.

“The cops came, and all the neighbors were called, and everybody drove the back roads for two hours,” he said. “Of course, it’s pitch black (and) it’s easy to hide in the woods.”

Merkes said he is offering a reward for information about the thieves or the canoe they were in. Anyone with information regarding the attempted theft can call the troopers at 907-262-4453 or Kenai Peninsula CrimeStoppers at 907-283-8477.

Reach Megan Pacer at

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Sterling resident Tommy Patterson inspects a boat motor belonging to his neighbor, Kenny Merkes, on Wednesday Aug. 12, 2015 on Moose River in Sterling, Alaska. Two men in a yellow canoe attempted to steal the motor from Patterson’s property late Monday night.

Courtesy Photo/Kenny Merkes Sterling Resident Tommy Patterson (left) speaks with an Alaska Wildlife Trooper (right) before the canoe used by two men in an attempted boat motor theft Monday night was impounded, on Tuesday Aug. 11, 2015 in Sterling, Alaska.

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