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

News briefs


Photo via Lindsay Hobson

Gov. Bill Walker last week, meeting audience members before the election season's first candidate debate.

Sex abuse

(AP) An Alaska man accused of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl believes he should go to prison.

Steven Varnes, of Healy, was arraigned on three counts of felony second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported .

Varnes, 31, appeared Friday in a Fairbanks court via close circuit TV from Fairbanks Correctional Center, where he said, "I don't believe I should ever be let out."

Varnes is a former Valdez resident.

"That aside, the only release request I might have would be to put me into a facility to help with my mental conditions," Varnes added, while wearing an anti-suicide smock.

The principal of Tri-Valley School in Healy on Tuesday alerted Alaska State Troopers after it was discovered the girl was sending sexually explicit messages, video and photos to Varnes, according to charging documents.

The girl told authorities she and Varnes had sex once in early April. Varnes told troopers the abuse happened twice and he thought the girl was 14 years old, the documents said.

Varnes' bail has been set at $510,000.

If convicted, Varnes faces as many as 99 years in prison for each count.

Walker ahead

The Walker-Mallott campaign announced through a press release Monday that the Unit Ticket is leading

The campaign said an "in-depth analysis of multiple polls taken over the last two months showing strong and growing support for the unity ticket over candidate Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy is a State Senator from the Mat-Su who resigned his position at the beginning of the 2018 legislative session in order to campaign.".

Spokesperson for the campaign Lindsay Hobson said, "With more than half of the electorate now registered nonpartisan, Alaskans are increasingly showing that they value honesty and leadership over political posturing. Bill Walker has consistently told Alaskans the truth about our fiscal situation and made the tough decisions to protect our Permanent Fund and our PFD for the long-term. That's why he leads with independent voters, rural Alaskans, likely voters, and one in five Republicans."

Salmon initiative

(AP) A ballot initiative that aims to strengthen state law that protects salmon habitat has made its way before the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce reports the court heard arguments Thursday on whether the initiative dubbed Yes for Salmon can appear on the November ballot.

State attorney Joanne Grace argued that the ballot initiative would prohibit large development projects that cannot avoid disrupting salmon habitat. The state claims the initiative violates the Alaska Constitution because it would take away regulation abilities from the Legislature.

Valerie Brown, legal director of Trustees for Alaska, argued that the initiative sets high bars for permitting, but it would not prevent any specific project or development.

The court is expected to issue a ruling by September.

Support animals

(AP) Alaska Airlines has updated its policy on emotional support animals following an increase in incidents involving them on planes and in airports, including some customers and employees suffering bites.

Starting May 1, customers flying with psychiatric service animals must provide animal health and behavioral documents and a signed document from a medical professional at least 48 hours prior to departure.

The airline also will stop allowing amphibians, goats and animals with hooves, tusks or horns.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Tim Thompson said there will be an exception for trained miniature horses. Miniature horses are recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are used by a small number of people with disabilities, said airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan in an email.

The changes are in response to increasing problems with emotional support animals on planes, Thompson said. There have been incidents where animals have bitten customers and employees, Thompson said.

"Most animals cause no problems," said Ray Prentice, Alaska Airlines director of customer advocacy. "However, over the last few years, we have observed a steady increase in incidents from animals who haven't been adequately trained to behave in a busy airport setting or on a plane, which has prompted us to strengthen our policy."

Alaska Airlines in recent years has handled about 150 support animals every day.

The new policy does not affect certified service animals, which are typically dogs helping owners with physical disabilities. The new restrictions only apply to animals assisting emotional, psychiatric, cognitive or psychological disabilities.

Take off

(AP) After being canceled just minutes before liftoff, a test rocket manufactured by California-based Astra Space Inc. is scheduled to launch from Kodiak later this month.

Officials at the Pacific Spaceport Complex did not give a cause for why an April 6 was scrubbed earlier this month, but confirmed the decision was not related to the spaceport facilities, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Friday.

Valdez Star photo

Ero Walli – the Valdez man accused of murder in the drunk driving death of Chellsie Hoffman – was handed over to the custody of Alaska State Troopers Friday morning. His bail is set at $100,000 and he has a new bail hearing May 2.

The new launch is scheduled for May 10 or May 11, said Mike Morton, a director of the Alaska Aerospace Corp.

Astra has not yet filed a license with the Federal Aviation Administration for the upcoming launch, so it was unclear if any changes to the launch vehicle would be made.

The documents filed last month for the previous planned launch indicated that Astra was authorized to send up a suborbital vehicle to carry "an inert upper stage on a suborbital trajectory without a payload."

An inert upper stage module does not travel into space, the Daily Mirror reported.

Astra was incorporated in 2016 and is based out of Alameda, California.

The company operates out of a 17,000-square-foot (1,579-square-meter) facility formerly occupied by the U.S. Navy.


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