Attack on Iditarod mushers: 'I just want to say I'm sorry,' snowmachiner says before arrest
A 26-year-old Nulato man says he was returning home from Koyukuk after a night of drinking when he struck Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King's teams in the early hours of Saturday with his snowmachine.
Arnold Demoski told Channel 2 News that when he woke up this morning and heard what happened to the mushers, he checked his snowmachine and knew he'd done it. The 2016 Ski-Doo was missing a cowling, or hood. Fresh, rust-colored stains marked the siding.
Demoski says he does not remember the collisions, which the Iditarod described as apparently intentional attacks. He also says he did not return to harass Zirkle later on the trail but says he wanted to check to make sure she was okay. He didn't have the courage to approach her and feared people would learn he had been drinking and driving, he said.
At first, Demoski said, he considered running and hiding. He said he called the village police officer to confess the crime.
"I just want to say I'm sorry," he said.
A natural resources coordinator for the village tribal council, Demoski said Jeff King was his favorite musher growing up. He made signs for the four-time champion as a child, he said.
When asked if he thought he should go to jail, Demoski said that he did. "For at least some time," he said, adding he hoped he wouldn't have to.
Troopers arrested Demoski late Saturday morning. He faces two counts of third degree assault, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of reckless driving and five counts of fifth degree criminal mischief.
The Nulato Tribal Council issued a statement saying they were 'deeply saddened' by what happened. "We are disturbed and saddened that celebrated Iditarod veteran dog teams led by Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle were struck by a resident of our village," the statement said. "Nulato recognizes the complex behavioral health issues that impact our village and we ask for prayers as we seek wellness for all."
Demoski said he struggles with alcohol. "It's ruining my life," he said.
Carrie Skinner, Jeff King's Husky Homestead Tours, wrote in statement to Channel 2 News that Nash was the grandson of famous lead dog, Salem.
"His brother, Crosby, was his best friend in the kennel & they would play like puppies for hours!," Skinner wrote. "He was a leader, a strong puller, & lovingly dedicated to his humans."
Of the two other dogs injured in the crash, Banjo and Crosby, King said one might have a fractured leg. "Another is better, but in shock, with an impact injury of some kind."
A veterinarian at the riverside checkpoint said she was not allowed to describe details of the injuries, referring questions to a race judge.
"We can't talk about it," she said. "But we've been crying a lot."
ORIGINAL STORY: Iditarod frontrunners Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle were attacked by a snowmachiner on their way to the Nulato checkpoint Saturday, resulting in the death of one dog and injury to several others, Iditarod race officials wrote in a press release.
In the early hours of Saturday, as Zirkle made her way to Nulato, officials say a snowmachiner "repeatedly tried to harm her and her team." One of Zirkle's dogs was hurt in the attack.
"Reportedly the snowmachiner made three separate attempts or passes at her including turning around several times," official Danny Seavey said in a video for the Iditarod Insider. "She actually used one of the trail-markers to defend herself - the four-foot pieces of lath out there that are marking the trail."
According to a report by Alaska State Troopers, the snowmachiner attacked Zirkle at one point on the trail and then returned to meet her about 12 miles away from Nulato. "The snow machine revved up and was pointed at her and then finally left the area with no further injuries to Zirkle or her team," Troopers wrote.
Zirkle pulled up to the Nulato checkpoint at about 2:17 a.m. In a video by the Iditarod Insider, when asked how she was by a race official, she responded, "Really bad... Someone tried to kill me with a snowmachine."
About 12 miles out of Nulato, Jeff King's team was also attacked by a snowmachiner. King was hit from behind and his three-year-old dog, Nash, was killed. Two other dogs, Banjo, 2, and Crosby, 3, were injured, according to race officials.
A video of King arriving in Nulato at 3:25 a.m. by Iditarod Insider shows King telling race officials that he'd had 'big problems.'
"I was hit by a snowmachine. I have one dead and several hurt," King said to the official.
In an interview with Channel 2 News, King said the snowmachine approached him 'in a blur.'
"He went by me at high speed. It was so incredibly close -- my team was well lit, with lights and reflectors -- that it felt very intentional," King said.
King tried to perform triage first aid on his dying and injured dogs. "I stood there as my dogs struggled in pain, with broken limbs and in the throes of death, for one of them," King said.
A piece of cowling from the snowmachine broke off during the attack on King's team and the musher brought it with him to Nulato as evidence.
King requested medical treatment for his dogs at the checkpoint and did not report any injuries himself.
Husky Homestead Tours, King's kennel, wrote in a message to Channel 2 that their crew at home was sad about what happened but were thankful that it was not worse. "We also wish the best to Aliy as she continues to Nome," office manager Carrie Skinner wrote.
The Village Public Safety Office confirmed to Channel 2 News that soon after the incident, a Nulato man called and confessed but Alaska State Troopers have not yet publicly identified a suspect.
Both mushers plan to continue the race to Nome.