FAIRBANKS—A 27-year-old Nulato man was sentenced Monday to serve a six-month prison term for his attack on two Iditarod mushers in March.
Arnold Demoski drove a snowmachine at mushers Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle on the night of March 12 near the Yukon River community of Nulato. His actions killed one sled dog and injured four. His motives for the attack remained unclear, even at Monday’s sentencing hearing.
Before imposing the sentence, Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy directly asked Demoski what he had been trying to do that night.
“I wasn’t trying to do nothing, your honor. I don’t remember. I’m sorry,” he said.
Through tears earlier in the hearing, Demoski apologized for his actions.
“I hope that they can find it in their hearts to forgive me one day," he said. “This incident was not intentional, it was just a big mistake from my bad decision making.”
Under the terms of an agreement, Demoski pleaded guilty to one felony count of third-degree criminal mischief and one misdemeanor count each of assault, reckless endangerment and driving under the influence.
The six-month prison term was the maximum sentence under the agreement. Fairbanks District Attorney Gregg Olson said the agreement was significantly influenced by Alaska Senate Bill 91, a major overhaul of Alaska's judicial system undertaken by the Legislature in the spring. In a pre-SB91 world, the state would have sought a prison sentence of between one and two years, he said.
Demoski already has served most of his sentence through an in-patient alcohol treatment program and time he spent in prison before he was released on bail. He has until Jan. 20 to turn himself back in to Fairbanks Correctional Center or to qualify for the state’s electronic monitoring program. He also was ordered to pay about $26,000 in restitution to King and about $10,000 to Zirkle.
Zirkle, who went on to finish third in the 1,000-mile race, and King, who finished ninth, both spoke at Monday's sentencing. Although they were both struck by Demoski on the same night, the attacks were distinct. King described being hit by a snowmachiner who collided with his team and killed his dog Nash before speeding away.
King telephoned into the hearing from his Denali-area home, where dogs could be heard barking in the background. He expressed frustration that in initial negotiations, Demoski's attorney proposed a restitution amount that was less than the value of the $10,000 snowmachine Demoski rode during the attack. However, he ended his comments by saying he sincerely wished Demoski the best.
Zirkle attended the hearing with her husband and fellow musher, Allen Moore. In the aftermath of the attack, Zirkle described being hit by a snowmachiner who then circled back to her multiple times. She described fearing another attack and said she pulled out a wooden Iditarod Trail marker to defend herself.
Demoski told Anchorage television station KTUU in March that he circled back to Zirkle not to harass her but in an attempt to check if she was OK. He said he never actually checked on Zirkle because he was afraid. Demoski also told the television station that he likes the Iditarod and that King is his favorite musher.
"What happened on March 12 in the middle of the night, there's only two people in the world who know exactly what happened and that would be Mr. Demoski and myself," Zirkle said at Monday's hearing. "I know he knows and he knows I know."
"When I think about sentencing, what I wish is that Mr. Demoski has enough time just in his head to think about the value of life and that my life has value. It is valuable to me, it is valuable to my husband, it is valuable to some people in this world," she said. "When he treated my life like garbage, that was a really big crime."
Demoski stared straight ahead toward the judge as Zirkle spoke, but as Zirkle continued to address him from the courtroom audience, Demoski's attorney, Geoffry Wildridge, rotated Demoski's chair so that it was pointed toward Zirkle. Demoski was crying.
"As I've come through this in 10 months and seven days, lastly I'd like to say to you that whether you believe it or not, there are people in this room who think your life is valuable, and I hope that you can think about that," Zirkle said.
Demoski had a position of responsibility in Nulato at the time of the attack as the natural resources coordinator for the Nulato Tribal Council. His past criminal record consisted of a few misdemeanors such as assault and furnishing alcohol to a minor in 2008 and trespassing in 2009. He said at Monday's hearing that he has a problem with alcohol and that he's been sober since March.
"It is important to note that this behavior was and is out of character for Arnold," his attorney said. "Alcohol is not an excuse but it fueled this behavior."
Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.