The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Overdose claims life of woman famous for daring cat rescue in 2014

Epidemic of opioid use continues nationwide as more young people succumb


Valdez Star file photo

Kristina Clark, who became a folk hero of sorts for her efforts to seek medical for her cat Ninja by scaling an avalanche, has died and Alaska State Troopers were looking to speak with her companion, Donney Carlson, left.

A young woman who became a folk hero to animal lovers has become a victim to Alaska's opioid crisis.

Kristana Clark, age 25, died in Glennallen on January 16, after troopers say she allegedly died of a heroin overdose. Her companion, Donney Carlson, allegedly called and reported her death before disappearing.

The two achieved notoriety in January of 2014 after they were arrested in Valdez by Trooper Tony Beck for entering the avalanche mitigation area on the Richardson Highway and refusing to turn back at the request of DOT personnel. They carried with them Clark's cat, Ninja, who was suffering from a urinary track blockage and was in need of emergency veterinary care.

Clark said she was short of cash to pay for Ninja's treatment and that calls to veterinary clinics in other areas of the state asking if Ninja's treatment could be paid for in installments were denied. Valdez Veterinary Clinic - then owned by DVMs Kelly and Kathryn Hawkins - said they would accept payments to treat Ninja - but that it was highly unlikely that the cat could be transported to Valdez due to the road closure and bad weather grounding air transportation.

The two then traveled by car down the Richardson Highway from Copper Center with the intent to park their vehicle and climb over the avalanches - with the cat in a backpack - that had no only closed the Richardson Highway but had dammed the Lowe Richard, putting downstream residents in peril.

Charging documents in the case say the two were told by DOT that they were issuing orders for them to leave the area by the authority of Alaska State Troopers. The message was apparently relayed from Beck to the DOT foreman and then to DOT employees operating heavy equipment behind the road closure. At the time, Beck said he made it clear that if the pair did not turn back and leave the area they'd be arrested.

The incident catapulted the two into infamy.

Today, Clark's friends and family mourn for a life taken too soon.

Court records indicate that Carlson has seen his fair share of trouble with law enforcement since pair the two were arrested in their efforts to save Ninja - who was indeed saved by veterinarians in Valdez.

In a case unrelated to Clark's death, a warrant for Carlson's arrest was issued by the Valdez Court on January 3, after he failed to appear at a calendar call related to a string of charges from a May 2016 case from Valdez. Original charges included: Vehicle Theft 1st Degree, Tampering with Physical Evidence, and Felony – Vehicle Registration.

Source: Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services

This chart shows the mortality rate of opioids in Alaska from Jan. 1, 2014 through Sept. 15, 2016.

The Centers for Disease Control says the abuse of heroin and other opioids are at epidemic proportions in the United States.

"Opioids-prescription and illicit-are the main driver of drug overdose deaths," the CDC says. "Opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015, and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999."

Sadly, the epidemic that may have claimed Clark's life is still spreading.

"Heroin use has been increasing in recent years among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels," the CDC noted. "Some of the greatest increases have occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes. In particular, heroin use has more than doubled in the past decade among young adults aged 18 to 25 years."


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