Record breaking heat and dry weather were common throughout Alaska in June. Anchorage has gone many weeks without significant rain, and that is very unusual for a city which historically has cool damp weather during spring and summer months. Fires burned in many areas, most of which are not fought because of limited personnel and the immense cost of fighting wilderness fires. Firefighters are sent to areas where communities are threatened, and that happened near Bethel in June. Alaska crews and hotshot crews from Oregon were sent to protect the village of St. Mary’s when a fire got within 5 miles of the village. One hotshot crew was at the Bethel airport after completing their assignment near St. Mary’s and it was quite a sight. The 25 member crew was mostly men with about 5 very athletic looking women. All were dressed in their firefighting outfits and they all looked like they were hired because they fit the description of a wilderness firefighter. Most were bearded and long haired, physically fit, and looked adventurous. A short visit with a few of the crew was entertaining. It was clear from that conversation that they were underpaid and overworked, yet loved every minute of their work. An attempt was made to buy the crew members each a beer on the flight back to Anchorage, but their crew boss does not allow the consumption of alcohol by the crew in a public setting. Imagine that, long hours in the smoke fighting a fire to save a village, no showers, marginal food from a box, and tons of bugs and then no beer on the ride out.
A long legal ordeal finally came to an end for two ALO clients with a settlement against the now bankrupt Hageland Aviation, a company that went out of business along with an affiliated company Ravn at the start of the pandemic. Hageland agreed to settle the claim brought by the victims of the 2016 mid-air crash for 2.5 million dollars. Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures, based in Bethel, and the estate of one of its pilots, Zachary Babat, sued Hageland as a result of the crash near Russian Mission. The trial in that case was scheduled for April of this year in Bethel after long delays due to Covid. Five people perished in the crash, which involved a Hageland Cessna Caravan and a Piper Super Cub flown by Babat for Renfro’s.
Kerry Pride of Montana brought the claim on behalf of her deceased husband, and Wade Renfro brought the claim for his company. Renfro’s sued for financial losses to the company from the crash, and Pride sought a variety of damages, including loss of income from her husband’s art business as well as from flying.
Both claimants relied on a map which was created from equipment on board the aircraft which recorded the flight paths flown by each. Here is that map from the National Transportation Safety Board:
The Renfro’s Super Cub (yellow line) was traveling north at a steady altitude between 1,700 – 1,800 feet prior to the crash. The Hageland Caravan (white line) was flying northwest after departing the runway at Russian Mission about three minutes before the crash and was climbing. Aviation experts employed in the case established that the Caravan pilot would have had a clear view of the Super Cub in front of him and to the left of his position in the cockpit. It was also obvious that the Caravan was below and behind the Super Cub until the seconds before the crash, leaving Babat little chance to observe the Caravan.
This settlement is the last of several reached between ALO clients and Hageland over the years. It was always a question how Hageland remained in business with the number of crashes the company had historically. In this particular case Hageland denied all liability despite the strong argument that the Hageland pilot had a clear view of the Renfro plane before the crash, if he was looking out the window. The suggestion from many folks who are familiar with cockpit operations is that the autopilot had been engaged, and the pilot’s attention was elsewhere. It is noteworthy that neither Hageland nor the estate of its pilot filed a claim against Renfro or its pilot. That, plus the amount of the settlement, removes any question as to which pilot was at fault in this crash. It is worth noting that for years Hageland would require as a condition of settling a case that the settlement was confidential. ALO went to great lengths to combat that strategy with some success. In honor of the last case against Hageland, this original sign found by a local pilot in an old hangar somewhere is a fitting ending.
In addition to that settlement an ALO client was able to settle her claim against a drunk driver in Anchorage. That case had an interesting twist. The insurance company refused to pay for many months, claiming that this video did not prove that the insured driver was intoxicated. Once the driver pled guilty to drunk driving and assault, the case settled without further delay.
The US Supreme Court did as expected and overturned a long time precedent which prevented states from banning abortions. In the process, they pointed to the lack of specific language in the Constitution on the subject, and one justice suggested other precedent should also be looked at, including protections for gay marriage and contraception. Many states have already banned abortions, and some have stated they will prosecute anyone who travels to another state to get an abortion. The conservatives on the court claim to adhere to the notion that the exact words of the Constitution are all that matter. Space does not allow a discussion of times when some of the same conservatives have found guidance for their decisions well beyond the confines of the Constitution, but suffice it to say is has happened often. The fallacy of creating binding precedent from an ancient document that is very hard to update is now becoming more apparent. Last month it was gun laws, this month abortion, voting rights and environmental regulations and who knows what is next. If our Constitution doesn’t allow for legal guidance that is reflective of modern society, then America is in trouble. Minority rule has taken over many facets of American government including the Supreme Court. Great majorities of the population disagree with these recent decisions, but are more or less powerless to respond. Here is a more pointed thought on that subject.
In a nation founded on the idea that religion and government should be separate, this country is fast becoming a nation where a minority’s religious beliefs are becoming the law of the land. And those religious beliefs have changed dramatically as well. What started as a belief that Christians support compassion for the poor, oppressed members of society has morphed into a church that honors wealthy pastors, supports radical gun rights, castigates impoverished immigrants and condones white nationalism. Try finding those ideas in the Bible. Minority rule requires many gimmicks to continue, such as gerrymandering, the electoral college, the filibuster, and limiting voting rights. But the end result is an ever growing majority that recognizes the fact that they no longer live in a majority rule system of government, and then the system starts to come apart, usually by violent means.
Ode to Bea
Speaking of courts, long ago Bethel court clerk Bea Kristovich died recently. Bea was the first person encountered after moving to Bethel in 1974. During the first few times with Bea it became apparent she wasn’t shy. In fact, she informed the newly minted Alaska lawyer that was handling all the Public Defender cases on the subject of shyness. “You’re gonna be seeing lots of older Native ladies from villages on juries and as witnesses in court. Most of them are quite shy, but a lot of you Gussuks (Caucasians) think that means they aren’t smart. Don’t make that mistake, cause they’re smarter than you are.” That was excellent advice, and accurate. During that first year many such shy Native women revealed their wisdom in court. The District Court judge was also a Native, but hardly shy. In fact the whole court staff was quite feisty, and they were more than willing to put the first resident Public Defender in his place. After a while it became possible to at least keep up with that lively group of clerks, with an occasional well placed return barb. But that was all in court, and it seemed outside of court most of the Native ladies remained shy and reserved. That all changed drastically when Bea’s cousin Beverly Hoffman showed up in 1975. She grew up in Bethel but after a few years in the Lower 48 she came back with a whole bunch of new ideas learned elsewhere. Shyness was not part of her program, and in the interim the shyness that Bea described among Native woman has gradually disappeared. Bea went on to become the first female Traditional Chief in the Bethel region. John Wallace put together this remembrance of Bea that is worth watching.
Mandatory Moose, Other Cuties & Cartoons
This month’s Mandatory Moose has three youngsters in tow.
Musk ox babies are among the cutest.
Dog lovers will appreciate this video of a dog welcoming home a family member.
Here are the cartoons that made the cut, all from Gary Larson.
That last cartoon hits close to home after a recent kidney stone attack. A stone of almost 1/2 inch diameter lodged in a strategic location, and required a painful trip to the emergency room. There some potent drugs changed an unpleasant Sunday into quite the opposite for a while. No wonder people get hooked on that stuff. The stone wasn't going to emerge on its own, so later it was zapped with a laser, and all is good.
Finally, a word about the Jan. 6 hearings. Following those hearings and the response has been enlightening. The hearing themselves are carefully constructed to limit involvement of Democrats as witnesses. Not only are most of the witnesses Republicans, many are also former Trump staffers or supporters. And of course one of the main committee members is among the most conservative Republican Congress members Liz Cheney. All that is meant to limit the ability of Trump loyalists to attack the hearings as partisan. And it seems to be working. The gradual but steady erosion of Trump support by leading Republicans is happening. It has become harder and harder for loyalists to turn a blind eye to the fact that Trump and his inner circle tried to overturn a presidential election based on what Trump’s Attorney General described, under oath, as bullshit evidence. There is much more to come and new witnesses are coming forward as the hearings proceed. People riding the fence are deciding which side of the fence they want to be on when this is all over. History will judge harshly those who choose wrong. There will be many more prosecutions in the coming months, and some folks will decide it is better to come clean than wait for an indictment. When a federal judge authorizes a search warrant for the phone and residence of the attorney who represented the President of the United States while he was in office, there ought to be great concern about what that President and his counsel were up to.