Man sentenced for drunken Iditarod snowmachine incident

Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle thank the community of Nulato at the Iditarod Banquet Sunday night. The checkpoint village raised money for the mushers after a drunk snowmachiner struck their teams on the trail. (Photo by Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome)

A drunk driver who ran his snowmachine into the dog teams of two front-running Iditarod mushers during the last year’s race was sentenced in state court in Fairbanks Dec. 19. Under a plea agreement, 27-year-old Arnold Demoski of Nulato was sentenced to 6 months in jail and ordered to pay restitution to the mushers: $10,000 to Aily Zirkle of Two Rivers, who had one dog injured, and $26,000 to 4-time Iditarod champion Jeff King of Denali Park. One of King’s dogs was killed and 3 others injured in the incident outside Nulato. King said the restitution does not cover his losses.

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”I would gladly take the dogs back and my race back in lieu of any restitution, but I think the point I want to elaborate on is, I thought Arnold truly impressed me of having remorse yesterday,” King said.

King said he hopes the case shines another light on the well-known Alaska issue of alcohol abuse and drunk driving, noting that the incident could have been much worse.

”As significant and painful loss as there was, I really believe he could’ve killed me and half the team had he been one foot, six inches closer than he was,” King said.

King said 2 of the 3 dogs injured in the incident are training in his team.

”The third one broke his front right leg and required surgery and we don’t expect him to recover as an Iditarod athlete,” King said. “But alive and well, we’ll find a spot for him.”

King stresses that last March’s incident is very unusual for the Iditarod, but said it has made him more vigilant of snow machines while out on the trail.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.