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  • Writer's pictureMyron

January 2021

For the first time ever – the January news does not include the Kuskokwim 300 race which was delayed to February this year by Covid-19 concerns. Covid has ripped through the Bethel area in the past couple of months, and has run its course in some villages and infected a large percentage of the residents. Infections are now easing off with the start of vaccinations This is not a surprise. Covid started late in the Delta, but once it took hold, the lifestyle contributed to a rapid spread. There are many households in the Bethel area with large families in a crowded house, and in a village of 300-500 people, there really is no place to isolate. There is often only one store, and sometimes only one location to launder clothes.

Remembering Joe Demantle Jr

There have been a number deaths from Covid – the most recent of which involved a mushing friend from the village of Tuluksak. Please read this remembrance of Joe Demantle Jr. Joe was a friend and client of ALO, and his jury trial on a hunting violation is a classic story from the past. In the 1980s, Joe drove to Bethel from his village, a distance of around 50 miles, by snow machine to conduct some business. He pulled a sled and brought along a shotgun for subsistence hunting along the way. On his return that afternoon, he saw some ptarmigan in the willows along the river, and stopped to harvest one for dinner. It so happened the winter moose season had also opened that February day, and a Bethel game warden was patrolling the river by Super Cub (a small single engine aircraft). He flew over Joe as he aimed into the bushes. Thinking there was a moose hunt involved, the warden landed his ski plane next to Joe as he retrieved the bird.

After greeting Joe, the warden asked to see his hunting license. Joe pulled out his license which had been purchased the previous August, and the warden told him it had expired Dec. 31st. Joe, like most rural Alaska hunters, purchased his license before moose hunting, which is the main hunting season along the Kuskokwim. After a short discussion, the warden said he was going to write Joe a citation, and retreated to the Super Cub to do so. Joe was not happy, and he also was not under arrest. He decided he would rather go home than wait on the river for such nonsense. He headed out while the warden was sitting in his plane, and the chase was on. A snow machine can travel almost as fast as a Super Cub on the river, and it took less than a half hour for Joe to get home. He drove to his house and went inside as the Super Cub circled overhead. The warden, obviously worked up because Joe drove off and left him on the river, radioed for help. The police report later showed that he summoned another plane from Bethel, and advised the second officer that he would continue to circle the Demantle house to make sure the suspect did not flee. For close to an hour, the Super Cub flew overhead while another plane was warmed up and flown to the village. That second officer walked to the Demantle house and told Joe to stay put until the overhead officer could land and approach the scene. Together both officers questioned Joe and charged him with hunting without a license, and seized the single ptarmigan as evidence.

This charge made the news in Bethel, and a local Native non-profit decided to get involved. They posted the funds to hire ALO, and the stage was set for the ptarmigan trial of the century. In the lead up to the trial, the press called for a statement, and it is possible that a member of the ALO trial team made some less than respectful comments about the game warden and the District Attorney who accepted the case for prosecution. Holding one’s tongue has never been a valued trait at ALO. On the day of trial, it was clear from jury questions that the prosecution had an uphill battle. Several jurors questioned why it was illegal to shoot a ptarmigan. Soon a jury of six plus one alternate was selected. Surprisingly, Bev Hoffman was the alternate. Like most people, she was reluctant to admit in public that she was a friend of defense counsel.

The defense focused on two arguments. First, that subsistence hunting for birds did not require a license, which at the time was a new argument but well received locally. While not technically a defense, there was no way to avoid this obvious problem with the state’s case. But even more troubling was the fact that Joe was able to produce proof that he had purchased a hunting license every year of his adult life (he was then in his 30’s). He testified he bought one every August before moose hunting and said he always thought they lasted for a year (which they should). There was ample opportunity to tease the warden about using two officers and two planes to bring this extremely minor case, even though he had Joe’s name and address shortly after landing on the river. Why not just send him a summons?

Final argument was another opportunity to belittle the warden and the prosecutor, and it was fun. Finally the jury was excused but somehow the judge failed to excuse the alternate, so Bev got her chance to weigh in on the case. Bev was a friend to Joe and his lawyer, but swears that did not affect her vote. She got in the jury room and learned quickly that the other six were ready to vote not guilty, so for the first time in Alaska history, a jury of seven returned a unanimous verdict for the defendant, in less than ten minutes.

It is not normal office policy for ALO to gloat after a courtroom victory, but this case was an exception. Both the warden and the prosecutor were ribbed on the way out of court, and again in the newspaper. It was one of the most fun jury trials ever.

Recently Joe was returned from Anchorage to make his final trip up that same river to Tuluksak. This time, instead of a game warden, a procession of trucks from Bethel turned out to follow him home. Out front was Pete Kaiser with his dog team. One of the organizers of that event was that alternate juror, and her husband John McDonald took this photo.


Speaking of Pete Kaiser, a dog from Old Friendly Dog Farm named Kaiser retired a few years back and was sent to a woman in Anchorage who wanted a sled dog for recreation use and as a pet. Kaiser hit the jackpot. His new keeper, Karen Deatherage, treats him like royalty as is appropriate, and recently posted this compilation of his year on Facebook.

Special Cartoon Guest

ALO’s favorite veterinarian Jessica Klejka posted this cartoon.

Jessica will be handling a clinic in Bethel AND racing a team in the Kuskokwim 300 this week. The normal source of cartoons, LaMont Albertson has been out of service with a medical issue, but his return is expected shortly. Meanwhile, this cartoon sort of hits close to home.

And finally in goofy dog stuff, this mutt deserves a quick look.

ALO News

Jury trials are still on hold in Alaska, but ALO managed to settle a couple of cases in the past month. Both were serious traffic accidents that settled for policy limits. There are a significant number of injury cases that are backed up, waiting for jury trials that are supposed to begin in September of this year.

Mandatory Moose, Creatures & Other Stunning Sights

Here is this month’s chilly Mandatory Moose.

This baby raven deserves a look as well.

Minnesota farm helper Skip Ackerson captured this photo of a possum, a relative newcomer to the area's wildlife scene. Truly a funny looking critter.

JoeJoe Prince of Bethel took this northern lights photo in Bethel.

Kuskokwim 300 manager Paul Basile snapped this shot of the river the morning of the Bogus Creek 150 race start.

Major US Problem

Wealth inequality in the US is a major problem. The rich get immensely richer while many of the rest fall further behind. This chart shows the trend, which all started when taxes were cut on the ultra rich.

It was supposed to make everyone better off, but it didn’t work. Much of that immense wealth is in the hands of folks in big oil. And a little appreciated fact about big oil is the amount of subsidies paid to big oil by Congress. Those amount to about $40 billion a year, and in Alaska alone it results in a net loss to state government because the amount of tax credits afforded oil companies exceeds the amount of taxes they pay. Many folks criticize programs such as food stamps which distribute modest amounts of assistance to poor folks, without recognizing that oil subsidies are a gigantic form of welfare that is rarely criticized, because big oil has many politicians totally under control. Even with the subsidies, big oil knows it is on the backside of its heyday. A recent massive oil lease sale in Alaska, opening an area previously off limits, was a dud - "ANWR lease flop offers Alaska a dose of harsh energy reality" (ADN). General Motors added to the future worries for Big Oil when it announced that it will introduce 30 new electric vehicle models by 2025, and totally phase out of gas and diesel models by 2035.

Uplifting Notes

With that note, perhaps closing with something uplifting is in order. Singing for the Concordia College chapel choir in the 1960’s there was a distinct opportunity to stay two more years and join the concert choir, which is one of the top a cappella choirs in the world. Instead a transfer to the University of Minnesota happened. This wonderful piece, performed by the choir with social distancing, is an example of their best work. With no disrespect to rap music and other musical forms, choral harmony is some of the purest musical expression ever. Please listen.


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