Kitchen employee killed colleague in Trapper Creek lodge restaurant, charges say

A car parked near trees.
An Alaska State Troopers vehicle. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)

One man is dead, and his coworker is in jail after a fatal stabbing Monday at a lodge in Trapper Creek, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers were informed at about 10 a.m. Monday that 21-year-old Jose Torres-Ayala had been stabbed and seriously injured, according to an online dispatch. He was medevaced from the lodge, but was later declared dead.

According to troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel, the stabbing took place in the restaurant of the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation determined that 33-year-old Michael Melendez had stabbed Torres-Ayala, troopers said. He was arrested on charges of first-degree and second-degree murder.

According to a charging document against Melendez, Torres-Ayala worked as a server in one of the lodge’s restaurants while Melendez, a dishwasher, had been transferred to another.

One employee told investigators that Melendez had an “odd” look in his eyes just before the stabbing, when he passed through a kitchen into the lodge. Another said Torres-Ayala was sitting in a corner seat of a dining room, and had just ordered some food when Melendez approached him. The two had a conversation the employee didn’t see, the charges say.

“The next thing (the employee) remembered was screaming, and she looked and saw Michael actively stabbing Jose with a large knife,” investigators wrote. “Jose was slouched over in the seat where all the blood was. Michael stopped stabbing and looked at (the employee), and she was afraid he was going to come toward her next. Michael left out the front door and she began calling for help.”

The charges say a manager at the lodge told investigators she was pulling up to the restaurant and saw Melendez running away, with people pointing at him and saying that he just stabbed Torres-Ayala. She drove after him and ordered him to stop, but he refused until she threatened to run him over. She had employees watch and then zip-tie Melendez, who wouldn’t talk when she tried to speak with him.

A nurse on vacation at the lodge, who initially treated Torres-Ayala, told troopers he suffered head, hand and arm wounds in the stabbing. A LifeMed air ambulance flew him to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, where he was declared dead.

Investigators found an 8-inch-long kitchen knife “covered in blood,” the charges said, on the floor near the bloodied bench seat where Torres-Ayala had been sitting. After obtaining a search warrant for Melendez, they seized clothing “with apparent blood on it.”

According to the charging document, Melendez “made a statement to investigators that he wanted an attorney and he refused to respond to a question about his name.”

McDaniel said Melendez was also not an Alaska resident. The charges say he had a Hawaii ID. The motive for the stabbing remains under investigation.

Staff at the lodge declined to comment on the case Tuesday afternoon. The lodge is located at Mile 133 of the Parks Highway, and offers trips to Talkeetna and Denali park.

Melendez was in custody Tuesday at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility.

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Chris here.

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