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Father, son arrested in connection with deaths of 2 Alaska State Troopers

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Posted: Friday, May 2, 2014 10:51 am | Updated: 6:22 am, Mon May 5, 2014.

TANANA, Alaska — Alaska State Troopers have released the names of the father and son arrested in association with the killing of two troopers Thursday in Tanana.

Nathaniel Lee Kangas, 19, is accused of killing Sgt. Patrick "Scott" Johnson and Trooper Gabriel "Gabe" Rich. Also arrested was Kangas' father, Arvin Morse Kangas, 58. The elder Kangas is accused of misdemeanor assault and driving with a revoked license. These charges stem from an incident with the Tanana Village Public Safety Officer on Wednesday, according to a troopers news release.

The bodies of the slain troopers have been recovered from Tanana and transported to Anchorage. A small procession was to accompany them to the State Medical Examiner's Office in Anchorage. The two troopers were part of a four-member rural unit based in Fairbanks that covered 23 villages in an area that extends as far west as Kaltag.

The crime scene is a red single-story building with a metal roof next to the community hall on Front Street, which borders the Yukon River. Troopers  blocked off the street about 80 feet away. On Friday morning about a half dozen men were unloading black garbage bags from the community hall and were putting them in a village public safety officer van. One man carried a long gun. An hour later the troopers had taken down all the police tape around the home and two Cessna Caravans departed the town airstrip.

Arvin Kangas was arraigned Friday in Fairbanks on a fourth-degree assault charge for the incident that apparently sparked the visit to Tanana by Johnson and Rich. 

According to charging documents, the incident occurred at about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday when Arvin Kangas became enraged about the sale of a sofa between a mother and daughter in the village. One of the women called the Village Public Safety Officer, Sgt. Mark Haglin, and said she was afraid Kangas was going to break into her daughter's home to retrieve the sofa.

When Haglin later saw Kangas driving near the daughter's home, he reportedly tried to stop the vehicle. Kangas responded with a profanity and told Haglin he had no jurisdiction to stop him. 

Kangas motioned for Haglin to approach him, but the VPSO declined.

"Kangas' behavior and comments placed me in fear of being assaulted and injured if I continued to investigate this matter," Haglin stated in the charging documents. 

Haglin said he told Kangas to drive his vehicle home and park it for the night, but he passed the white station wagon Kangas had been driving about 15 minutes later. 

When he approached Kangas' residence to follow up, Haglin said he saw Kangas exit the building and start to sit down on a chair while pointing rapidly to a shotgun. Haglin said he left the area "in fear of being shot," leading to the call for backup by troopers to serve an arrest warrant.

Details of the shootings weren't included in the court documents, but a news release from Alaska State Trooper Director Col. James Cockrell said Johnson and Rich were shot while attempting to place Arvin Kangas under arrest.

The release said a struggle ensued after the troopers contacted Arvin Kangas near the front door of his residence, resulting in the three men entering the home. While inside, it's believed that Nathanial Kangas shot and killed the troopers with a semi-automatic rifle, Cockrell stated.

A dozen troopers filled the courtroom for Arvid Kangas' arraignment Friday, departing soon after Kangas offered a plea of not guilty. Kangas reportedly has 10 previous criminal convictions, including a pair of assaults. His most recent conviction was in 2012 on a driving under the influence charge.

Speaking by video from Fairbanks Correctional Center, Kangas interrupted to protest when Magistrate Judge Alicemarie Rasley set his next court appearance for June 25 in Galena.

"No, in Tanana," Kangas said, arguing that Galena wasn't an appropriate location.

Nathanial Lee Kangas is expected to be arraigned on Saturday. No charges had been filed against him by Friday afternoon, but anticipated charges include two counts of first-degree murder and a third-degree assault charge, Cockrell stated.

Tribal administrator Shannon Erhart posted a written statement on a community message board Friday from the Tanana Tribal Council. Many Tanana residents were attending a burial ceremony that afternoon for community elder Lois Starr.

"This is a very sad day for our community of Tanana. Our hearts go out to the two fallen Alaska State Troopers..." it stated.

"We have to continue with our plans to bury our mother/grandmother/auntie today, and we ask that you respect our community as we continue with this loss."

Charlie Campbell, a 33-year-resident of Tanana who was biking near the crime scene Friday afternoon, said it's sad to see his town in the news for this week's events. He said he moved to Tanana when he was in his 20s out of a sense of adventure and thinks of it as a place where people stop you in the street to wish you a happy birthday. 

"I like living here because people are good-hearted," he said. "It's distressing for me for people to think of Tanana as a bad place."

The only other homicide in the community he knows of occurred in the 1980s, he said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter, @FDNMcrime. Staff writer Jeff Richardson contributed to this report.

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