Tragedy struck the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in the early hours Saturday morning when a rogue snowmobile drove into two dog teams about five miles from Koyukuk on the Yukon River, killing one dog and injuring three others.
While racers Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King will likely never forget the attack, the incident’s perpetrator says he can barely remember it happening at all. That’s because he was, by his own admission, blackout drunk.
On Friday night, native Alaskan Arnold Demoski hopped on his snowmobile, drove home and crashed in his bed after a night of partying with friends. On Saturday afternoon, the 26-year-old was arrested, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
Demoski had been partying in the upriver village of Koyukuk, then made the 22-mile drive northeast to the home he shares with his parents in Nulato, a small village in western Alaska. He was, according to his own account, too drunk to be driving, a common problem in a state with vast distances between towns and few means of public transportation.
Demoski heard about the incident shortly after waking up Saturday morning, and upon seeing the front panel on his snowmobile was missing, called the village police.
“I knew it was me right off the bat,” he said (via the L.A. Times). “I called the (village public safety officer) right off, told him it was me. I told him I’d do whatever they wanted me to do … I feel really bad for what I did.”
A few hours later, he was charged with second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, reckless driving and six counts of fifth-degree criminal mischief, according to State Trooper Robert Nunley.
The incident happened at 2 or 3 a.m. Saturday, according to the Alaskan Dispatch, on Day 6 of the famous Iditarod race, an annual 1,000-mile sled-dog trek from Anchorage to Nome. Zirkle, a two-time Iditarod runner-up from Fairbanks, reported that she was first attacked near the village of Koyukuk. According to police, the snowmobile hit the side of the musher’s sled and injured one of her dogs. Later, the snowmobile again came in contact with Zirkle while she was outside of Nulato. Zirkle was left unscathed, though one of her dogs was bruised in the encounter.
Fellow racer Jeff King and his team weren’t so lucky.
According to King, a four-time Iditarod champion, a snowmobile made several attempts to run his team over. The encounter resulted in the death of 3-year-old Nash and inflicted non-life-threatening injuries to two others: 2-year-old Banjo and 3-year-old Crosby. King also sought medical treatment after reporting the incident.
“It literally took as long as a snowmachine takes to go 80 mph the length of a dog team,” King said. “It’s a millisecond.”
King said he had two lights on as his team traversed the 40-foot-wide trail that snakes alongside the Yukon River. All of his dogs were equipped with reflectors.
“He didn’t turn around,” King said. “He didn’t slow down.”
Zirkle arrived at a checkpoint Saturday morning visibly shaken from the incident, according to the Alaska Dispatch.
“I’m really bad,” she told race judge Karen Ramstead as she began checking in. “Someone tried to kill me with a snowmachine.”
In a phone interview with the Alaska Dispatch before his arrest Saturday afternoon, Demoski apologized for the incident and denied reports that his actions were intentional. He said he is a lifelong fan of the race and that King was always his favorite competitor.
Demoski, a natural-resources coordinator for the Nulato tribal council, said he believes he came out of his drunken blackout state after the collisions revved up his adrenaline.
“I don’t care if people know if I was drinking and driving,” he said. “I’m really glad (Zirkle) and (King) are OK and I really feel sorry for Nash.”
Demoski also posted an apology video on Facebook, saying, “I turned around because I was concerned about them. I didn’t turn around to continuously attack them like the papers are saying. That’s not me.”
Despite the tragedy, both Zirkle and King plan to continue their 2016 Iditarod run. Zirkle is currently in third place.