A young man was sentenced in Bethel Superior Court to 45 years in prison for murdering a Korean cab driver a few winters ago. Kyle Motgin pled guilty to murder in the second degree which dropped several other charges. He was 21 years old when he stabbed Young Suk Chong to death on January 31, 2012.
The victim, “Suzi”, as she was known by her friends, was a 54-year-old cab driver working the early morning shift. Wind chills were 55 below zero. Motgin had been drinking and called the Quyana Cab Company from a home in Bethel. The Kuskokwim River was frozen and he wanted a ride downriver 10 miles to the village of Napakiak. Instead of bringing money to pay for the ride, he brought a knife.
Judge Dwayne McConnell spoke at length at the sentencing.
“The kind of injuries that you inflicted are hard to imagine,” McConnell said.
McConnell reviewed the evidence. In Bethel they found glasses, a boot, and blood; inside the SUV cab car in Napakiak, it was another gruesome scene.
“It’s clear to me that she fought, she fought, she fought really hard to stay alive to try to stay alive and he did his best to make sure she didn’t for whatever reason,” McConnell said.
Motgin stabbed Chong too many times to count. He dragged her into the back of the cab and left her body there to freeze. She was found the next day.
In sentencing comments, District Attorney June Stein said Chong was working in Bethel to earn money for her family back home in California. Part of that family is her daughter Alisha McGinty who addressed the court in person.
“My mom is the rock of my family and my extended family. Not only only financially but emotionally,” McGingy said. “She always hosted out family gatherings, Christmas, any holiday, any Korean holiday, Thanksgiving. Celebrating our first Christmas without her last year, despite having almost every family member there. . .felt empty and cold.”
She expressed her grief that her mother missed her recent graduation from college. She says her mom overcame a lot in her life including extreme poverty and a bout with cancer which doctors told her would leave her six months to live.
“I’ve always thought that she was like a super hero and for her to go the way she did is so unbelievable unfair,” McGinty said.
Motgin also got emotional when he spoke and apologized to Chong’s family.
“It’s hard on me, it’s hard on my family, it’s hard on the victim’s family. I’m sorry,” Motgin said.
Through long pauses in his comments, Judge McConnell said there were a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the murder. He said they’re never going to know exactly why it happened but they do know who did it.
The judge talked at length about Motgin’s past criminal history. At the time of the murder he was on felony probation for assaulting an ex-girlfriend.
“You assault women. . .and you seem to like knives,” McConnell said.
McConnell says the fact that Motgin might have been drunk that night is no excuse.
“Alcohol lets you do things you want to do. It makes it easier to do things you want to do,” McConnell said. “That’s what alcohol does. It dis-inhibits you. It makes you more likely to do what you want to do. It’s why people get in trouble. It shows me that you’re such an angry person.”
Whether it was anger that Motgin felt that night and whether it can be resolved in the future is unknown but the sentence allows for the possibility of rehabilitation.
He was sentenced to 80 years with 35 suspended. That leaves him 45 years to serve with 10 years probation, which would put him up for parole when he’s about 50 years old. He also has to serve an additional 1 and a half years for violating his previous probation.
There is several probation conditions including one that prevents Motgin from ever taking a cab again.
Alaska’s transportation department has agreed to pay $332,000 for violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The department also has agreed to close and sample 55 motor vehicle waste disposals well at state vehicle repair and maintenance facilities across Alaska by 2018 as part of the settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA says the wells are outdated and some posed a risk to groundwater used for drinking water.
The wells, according to an EPA release, were used to dispose of storm water, snowmelt and water used to wash vehicles.
Transportation department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says efforts have been underway to decommission the wells for some time. The release says six have already been closed.
Woodrow says his department will need to request funding for closure-related costs.
A group opposed to the proposed Pebble Mine has secured enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot.
On Tuesday, the Division of Elections counted 30,210 verified signatures for the Bristol Bay Forever initiative. It needed 30,169 signatures. According to the Division of Elections tally, the group also cleared a threshold requiring that those signatures come from districts spread across the state.
The initiative would require legislative approval for large-scale mining operations in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve for the purpose of protecting the area’s salmon fishery. While the initiative does not explicitly name Pebble Mine, it is targeted at the controversial project. Sponsors focused only on Bristol Bay to avoid affecting other mining projects in the state.
“[That way] you don’t have other entities saying, ‘Yeah, but it might affect me over here,’ ‘It might affect me over here!’” says Art Hackney, a political operative who represents the group. “This is just about this one fishery.”
The Legislature is already required to vote on oil and gas projects in the region.
Hackney says Bristol Bay Forever will face opposition from the mining industry during their campaign, but expects their enthusiasm to be dampened now that a major partner has left the project. Anglo American abandoned its stake in September, after investing $541 million in the operation over the past six years.
“It’s hard to say what the other side will come up with, but it doesn’t look like with Anglo [American] pulling out they’re going to have the money to do that,” says Hackney.
As of September 30, Bristol Bay Forever had $11,000 cash on hand. They’ve raised $100,000 this year, with much of that money going toward the signature collection effort.
The Pebble Partnership, which has mineral rights to the land, still hasn’t decided how they’re going to approach the initiative. Bristol Bay Forever sponsors are currently being sued by the Alaska Miners Association and the Council of Alaska Producers, and Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole says the company is waiting for the constitutionality of the initiative to be decided in that case. If the legal challenge fails, Pebble still doesn’t want the initiative to be turned into law.
“It’s not going to stop Pebble, and it’s just one more effort by the organized opposition to really try to politicize the permitting structure for a resource development project in the state,” says Heatwole. “The question Alaskans should be looking at is: ‘Okay, if it passes for Bristol Bay this go round, what region of the state is next?’”
The Division of Elections still needs to complete their signature count before the Bristol Bay Forever initiative can get the final go-ahead from the state. If it is approved, it will be the second proposition to make it on to the August 2014 primary ballot. A referendum to repeal the state’s new oil tax system got clearance earlier this year.
An agreement to allow tribal courts to have more law enforcement jurisdiction in rural Alaska may be right around the corner.
It was discussed extensively today on the public radio call-in show “Talk of Alaska,” by Attorney General Michael Geraghty and the Chairman of a congressionally-mandated commission that just released a report calling on Alaska to do more to bring law enforcement to the bush.
Another Fairbanks neighborhood lost power Tuesday morning after a tree fell on a transmission line. Electricity was restored in about 2 hours, but Golden Valley Electric spokeswoman Corrine Bradish says the tree is thought to have been weakened by last week’s wind storm, a problem she says that is expected to persist.
Senator Mark Begich is proposing a change to the Affordable Care Act that would make cheaper insurance options available.
The Expanded Consumer Choice Act would add a new tier of coverage to the range of plans available on the individual market starting in 2015.
Begich wants to call them copper plans. They would be less expensive and have higher deductibles than the bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans currently available.
Begich says he’s been talking with small business owners and individuals who want more affordable coverage options under the new law.
“What I keep hearing from people is make sure the choices are there but those core benefits aren’t taken away, preventive care and making sure people don’t get denied because of preexisting conditions and carrying your kid to the age of 26, very important pieces of the puzzle,” Begich said.
Some consumers would be able to use subsidies to pay for copper plans. The law currently allows people under age 30 to buy higher deductible, catastrophic plans but they aren’t eligible for subsidies.
Begich says having another option is especially important for a state like Alaska, where health care premiums are so high.
The Affordable Care Act requirements and benefits have generally made those premiums even more expensive. Begich says he doesn’t know how cheap the copper plans would be.
“It will definitely be less than the lowest cost bronze plan, there’s no question about that, how much less it’s hard to say yet until they design the detail of it,” Begich said. “But right now the law prevents that from happening so we want to fix that so it allows it to happen.”
Begich sent a letter outlining the idea to President Obama on Tuesday.
The Department of Interior announced Tuesday it paid Alaska $19 million over the previous year for oil and gas development on federal land in the state.
That’s a few million more than the 2012 disbursement but a fraction of the billions Alaska reaps each year from oil development on state–owned lands like Prudhoe Bay.
The government pays states a portion of the rents, royalties and bonuses it takes in from energy and mineral production.
The state with the biggest federal disbursement in the past year was Wyoming, at nearly $1 billion. The smallest payment – a mere $38 — went to North Carolina.
GCI and KTUU-TV have been negotiating a new deal to broadcast the NBC affiliate to rural communities. Without a deal, subscribers in those areas will have to settle for something else as talks continue.
A new report from the state shows a substantial decline in inhalant abuse across Alaska. But “huffing”, as it’s called, is still most prevalent among teens.
Residents braved chilly weather on Saturday for a home-cooked Filipino dinner — and a chance to support the local Fil-Am Association’s typhoon relief efforts.
The line spilled out the door at the Burma Road Chapel. While it was cold and drizzly outside, there were piles of hot adobo, rice and egg rolls to be had inside, all prepared and served by members of the Fil-Am Association.
Kathy Leu sat at a table in the chapel with a friend, eating pancit, a traditional noodle dish. She said they came hungry and were happy to donate.
“The Filipino food is always so good, but [we] definitely wanna support the cause,” Leu said.
The buffet line packed the chapel’s small space. Most people didn’t stick around to eat, and walked away with stacks of to-go boxes for their families at home.
But that was just fine with Fil-Am members helping out at the dinner, like Roel Villamor.
“It’s a small community, but it’s such a big heart. Everybody’s here,” Villamor said. ”It’s amazing.”
Fil-Am charged $12 a plate, but many people chose to give more. The group raised more than $20,000 at the event alone.
That’s not counting their other fundraising efforts. They’ve placed donation boxes around at grocery stores around town. And Fil-Am has formally asked Unalaska’s city council to consider making a contribution from their discretionary budget.
Former mayor and city council member Frank Kelty advocated for that donation at a city council meeting this month. He says Unalaska has a history of lending a hand after disasters, like September 11th. He says the typhoon hits close to home for Alaskans.
“Unalaska’s one of the largest Filipino communities in the state, and if they [the city council] so choose to assist, I think it’s a great thing to do, especially with the devastation we’ve seen in the central part of the Philippines,” Kelty said.
City council is expected to vote on a making a donation at their meeting next week.
Meanwhile, Fil-Am members will get together this week to talk about holding more fundraisers — and to decide what to do with the money they’ve raised so far. At meetings before the dinner, they said they wanted to find a relief organization that would reach typhoon victims as quickly as possible. Some members of Unalaska’s Filipino community still haven’t gotten in touch with family in the hardest-hit areas of the country.
The Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska no longer practice shamanism, but elements of it still exist in their culture today.
That’s according to Anthropologist and Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl, who spoke Monday as part of SHI’s Native American History Month Lecture Series.
Worl said shamanism used to be a major component of Tlingit life. She said every clan had a shaman before Russian and American colonization largely forced the Tlingit people to abandon their traditional religion.
“Shamanism is generally associated with hunting, fishing and gathering societies that often migrate with seasons to follow their food sources,” Worl said. “To bring food, health and protection from evil, shaman seek connections with animal powers through their rituals.”
The shaman’s responsibilities, she said, included maintaining the well-being of the clan; acting as a military advisor; assuring hunting and fishing success; predicting future events; and curing illnesses. To do that they performed rituals designed to ward off hostile and dangerous spirits, and call upon good spirits to support the clans’ welfare.
Tlingits believed that great shaman traveled in both the physical and spiritual world, and that spirits chose certain people to be shaman, she said.
“The majority of spirits with which the shaman makes his alliances are animals, animal spirits,” she said. “This reflects a widespread belief by cultures that practice shamanism that animals inhabited the world long before human beings and are essential to people because of the unique knowledge that animals possess.”
Worl said Tlingit clans last practiced traditional shamanism in the 1950s, but she said it still pervades the rituals and beliefs of Southeast Alaska Natives today. For instance, Tlingits – including the late-Reverend Dr. Walter Soboleff – still believe that all objects possess some sort of spiritual essence, she said.
“I’ve had meetings here in this room, where people like our spiritual leader, Dr. Soboleff, has pounded on the table and says, ‘Everything has a spirit! Even this table has a spirit!’” Worl said, pounding her own fist on the podium.
About 15 years ago at a clan conference organized by the heritage institute, Worl said several elders attributed modern social problems, such as alcoholism and suicide, to Tlingit societies being out of balance.
“In our society we have a number of practices to ensure both social and spiritual balance, and they were holding that we were out of spiritual and social balance, and this was the cause of the social illnesses that affect our society,” Worl says.
She said that discussion led to some of SHI’s most successful cultural programs.
Worl said the influence of shamanism on modern Tlingit life is perhaps most evident in the use of sacred objects and regalia in ceremonial acts, including memorial celebrations.
“When our ceremonial and sacred objects are brought out and the spirits are addressed or called upon in the same way as they were in earlier times,” she said.
Many Tlingit elders are reluctant to discuss shamanism, perhaps due to the punishment Native people endured at the hands of colonizers for practicing their religion, according to Worl.
She said it’s unlikely traditional shamanism will ever be completely revitalized, but some Tlingits are looking at ways to incorporate more of the old practices in modern ceremonies.
A fight on the F/V Alaska Juris landed one crew member in the hospital with knife wounds, and another three behind bars.
According to preliminary police reports, 47-year-old Wayland Smith and his coworker had a disagreement aboard the Alaska Juris on Thursday night. The 238-foot catcher-processer was anchored in Captains Bay to offload seafood to a tramper.
“Smith is alleged to have stabbed a fellow in the arm, abdomen, and buttocks,” Sunderland says.
Police were called to the Alaska Juris around 9:30 p.m. They responded using the ports department’s Tidebreaker boat.
While officers were trying to arrest Smith, several other crew members rushed at the man — allegedly with the intent to injure him. Taylor Toelupe, 37, and 23-year-old Meafou Touala were subsequently arrested and charged with rioting, assault, and resisting arrest.
Smith was taken into custody. He’s facing charges of first degree assault and tampering with evidence, for allegedly tossing the knife overboard. Smith made a first appearance in court on those charges Friday afternoon. He had a black eye, and one of his wrists was bandaged.
Smith’s bail was set at $100,000 cash bond. Sunderland says that reflects the severity of the charges.
“We’re talking about a danger to others,” Sunderland says. “We don’t see $100,000 bail here that often.”
The stabbing victim was medevacked off the island for medical care. Anchorage police have visited the man in the hospital to question him regarding the fight.