Musher still in shock after tragic accident on Parks Highway

Jaye Foucher unsure if she will compete in the Willow 300 or Iditarod
It’s still undecided whether Foucher will be ready to compete in the Willow 300 or what would be her first-ever Iditarod.
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 7:33 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 21, 2022 at 10:02 AM AKST
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WILLOW, Alaska (KTUU) - The mushing community is reeling after a tragic accident involving a vehicle and a sled dog team on the Parks Highway. Jaye Foucher and her team of sled dogs were out for a run Wednesday afternoon when the team was struck by a vehicle after the leaders suddenly veered onto the highway, leaving one dog dead and others injured.

Foucher said the trail that runs along the highway hadn’t been broken out from fresh snow.

“For some reason, they just decided that the road looked easier,” said Foucher, a musher from New Hampshire training for the upcoming Willow 300 and Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this year.

According to Foucher, the two lead dogs jumped a snowbank and made it onto the road before she quickly yelled at them to get back onto the trail. But instead of getting back, they accidentally went further into the road, pulling the front half of the team with them.

“At that point, you know, fear is what goes through your mind,” Foucher said. “Because they’re on a major road. And, you know, it’s a quick instant decision, do I sink a hook and run and grab the team?”

Before making a decision on how to proceed, Foucher looked up the highway and saw a vehicle approaching. Attempts to get the vehicle’s attention fell short, however, and the vehicle collided with the dog team.

“He just hit the team at 50-something miles an hour head-on,” Foucher recalled. “... And I just started screaming.”

According to a dispatch from Alaska State Troopers, the driver of the vehicle remained on scene and assisted Foucher and her dog team, as well as a good Samaritan who stopped to help her pull the rest of the dogs off the road. Fouchet said she never got the name of the person who stopped to help, but she’s grateful.

After making a couple of calls for help, Foucher says within 10 minutes multiple people in the mushing community were on scene to help her transport her dogs to Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center for treatment. Two dogs remained in care as of Thursday afternoon, while the others were cleared to go home. One dog, Noddy, died in the accident.

Foucher wonders if there was anything she could have done differently, but ultimately the decision she made to try and alert the vehicle to stop was to alleviate the risk of putting her entire team in harm’s way.

″I feel incredibly lucky that it was only one dog that I lost,” Foucher said, struggling to hold back tears. “... He was such a promising young leader and a dog that I raised from birth, and it’s just to lose a dog this way is incredibly, incredibly hard.”

Two dogs ran off immediately following the incident when they became unhooked from their harness, but both have been found since then. One was found soon after the incident, while Felicity, showed up at Foucher’s home Friday morning.

Jaye Foucher's dog, Felicity, ran off following the incident but was found Friday morning.
Jaye Foucher's dog, Felicity, ran off following the incident but was found Friday morning.(Jaye Foucher)

It’s still undecided whether Foucher will be ready to compete in the Willow 300 or what would be her first-ever Iditarod. She says she’s still in shock and needs time to heal emotionally after the accident, but she’s not giving up on dog mushing.

“But I do think, I do worry that it’s going to be hard for me to go mush past that spot again,” she said.

“I love the sport too much. I love the dogs too much,” she continued later.

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