Alaska News Nightly: July 29, 2011

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Juneau Teenager Dies After Assault in Arkansas

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau teenager has died in Arkansas as a result of injuries sustained in a July 20 random assault.

Nineteen-year-old Kevin Thornton spent a week in a coma at a Little Rock hospital before he passed away Wednesday.

Hot Spring County Sheriff’s Investigator Phillip Calhoun says Thornton and a friend were walking along Traskwood Road in the Glen Rose area of the county when four teenagers attacked them. Thornton’s friend, 20-year-old Jerry Haines of Glen Rose, managed to flee. Thornton was severely beaten.

Calhoun says the suspects knew Haines, but there was no history among them.

Calhoun says Thornton was punched in the face and knocked to the ground. He apparently hit his head on a rock and was unconscious, but the youth continued to beat and kick him. They dragged Thornton into a ditch and left. He was found by a passerby who took him to a nearby church and called paramedics.

Four suspects, ages 14 to 17, have been arrested in connection with the beating and were charged Thursday with second degree murder. Because they’re juveniles, their names have not been released. Calhoun says they will be tried as adults.

Calhoun said the four boys had been drinking and were driving on Traskwood Road when they saw Thornton and Haines, and decided to beat them up.

Thornton had been visiting friends in Arkansas.

He was a 2010 graduate of Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau. He is survived by his parents Bill and Darlene Thornton, and his sister, Katie.

Senate Kills House Bill to Raise Debt Limit, Cut Spending

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House passed a bill Friday that would raise the national debt limit and cut spending. It was a close shave, with just two more members voting for it than needed for passage, 218 to 210.  No Democrats supported it, and less than two hours later, the Democratic controlled Senate tabled it, effectively killing it as was expected.

Congressman Don Young was lukewarm about it but voted yea, calling it “better than nothing.”  House Speaker John Boehner had to retool his plan after punting Thursday night and canceling a vote because he couldn’t muster the support of Tea Party Republicans. Some of them signed on Friday because the new version includes a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

While many in Washington – including the Alaska delegation – are warning that a default could be catastrophic for the American economy, some Tea Party members say the threat is overblown.  Senator Lisa Murkowski has harsh words for that attitude.

“I believe it’s damaging. We cannot play chicken with our financial future.”

The Treasury Department says there are just four days until the nation risks defaulting.

While the House Republican plan is expected to fail in the Senate, Murkowski also predicts the Senate Democrats plan will, in turn, die in the House.

“We will be no further along in a resolve than we were before we took the votes. If I sound a little cynical and a little frustrated it’s because I am. What we need to be doing right now is demonstrating that we have support not only for a cobbled together plan that can gain sufficient votes for passage, but that we actually are willing to work on a solution to the tough problems we have in front of us. But the clock is ticking, and we have a very real deadline in front of us.”

Murkowski says in her nine years in the Senate, she’s never seen anything this important be so stuck.

“Never. Do I want to again, never. And I will tell you, I serve with some good folks, some people who have been around for a long time. We’ve had some real interesting conversations in the past week here, both R and D on this. And nobody that I’ve talked with, and I’ve talked with a lot, have been in a similar situation where there was more at stake and a less clear path forward.”

Murkowski is supporting the Boehner plan even though she has concerns about it, and she does not intend to vote for the Senate Democrats’ plan as it’s currently written. The Senator says she’s working with colleagues in hopes of inserting stronger language about tax and entitlement reform into whatever bill surfaces by the end of the weekend.

Debt Ceiling Dominates Senator Begich’s Town Hall

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Thursday night, as Congress continued the debate, Senator Mark Begich hosted a town hall by telephone. From his Senate office, he was on the phone for an hour getting more than 1,200 Alaskans on at its peak. The 14 people who got to ask questions mostly focused on the debt ceiling, and as APRN’s Libby Casey reports, they were very educated – and very concerned.

Anchorage School District Receives Extra $19 Million

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau was pleasantly surprised to get nearly $19 million in extra money for the upcoming school year. Some of the money comes from a one-time legislative appropriation to offset high energy costs, although the district can use it for re-instating positions or other needs. There is also new money to bolster technical and vocational training and some funds will offset retirement costs.

Comeau says the funds will be used to upgrade aging computer equipment, restore 20 teacher positions and supervisors as well as expand internet and online class offerings.

She says she’s grateful for the funds but wishes there was more stability built into the system for building budgets for the district. She says the district can’t go directly to the voters to request funding increases; it must go through the legislature and assembly.

Comeau says even though the yearly struggle over building the budget is frustrating, she’s very grateful to the legislature for increasing the career and technical education funding. The new total must still be approved by the Anchorage Assembly.

Two More Groups Join Lawsuit to Exclude Alaska from ‘Roadless Rule’

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Two resource development groups have filed to join a lawsuit that would exclude Alaska national forests from the roadless rule.

The Southeast Conference and the Alaska Forest Association are supporting a state suit against the U.S. Forest Service. It seeks to overturn a recent court decision imposing the nationwide rule on Southeast’s Tongass and Southcentral’s Chugach National Forests.

Shelly Wright is executive director of the Southeast Conference, an organization of regional government and business leaders.

The rule limits logging and other activity on roadless parts of national forests. A federal District Court ruling earlier this year applied it to Alaska, which had been exempt.

That judgment included a list of hydropower, mining and other projects that could move forward in roadless areas of the Tongass.

Wright says that’s not enough.

The Parnell administration appealed the roadless rule decision in June. It also sued, claiming the rule violated several federal laws, including the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, known as ANILCA.

‘Pedouins’ Start Bus Tour Through Alaska, Canada, Lower 48

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Kentucky family, who pedaled a five-person bicycle into Fairbanks nearly a year ago, is heading out of town in a vintage bus. As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports the Harrisons, who go by nickname “Pedouins”, are realizing the next chapter of their adventurous life.

Weather Continues to Halt Recovery of Remains from Plane Crash

Associated Press

Authorities are still awaiting a break in weather to recover the remains of a couple killed in a plane crash near Juneau Sunday. An Alaska State Troopers’ spokeswoman, Beth Ipsen, said authorities didn’t attempt to recover the bodies today. A low cloud ceiling has precluded use of aircraft to reach the crash site on Douglas Island.

Ipsen said authorities will try this weekend if there’s a break in the weather.

Troopers said the victims are believed to be Charles Luck and Liping Tang-Luck, of Anchorage.

This Week on AK: Yard Sales

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Today on AK, we head out in search of Alaska history…

Yard sales are a great summer tradition in this state. Thrifty Alaskans scour neighborhoods for good deals on used kitchenware, baby clothes and furniture. But when Wasilla resident Chuck Graham makes his weekend garage sale rounds… he’s on the hunt for something different. Graham is after rare historical finds from early Alaskan life.

300 Villages: Ouzinkie and Shungnak

Now its time for our weekly trip around the state for 300 villages. We’ll start with an island village near Kodiak called Ouzinkie. And then go northwest to Shungnak, above the arctic circle on the Kobuk river.

That was Dan Clarion in Ouzinkie and Helen Mitchell from Shungnak. 300 villages is AK’s attempt to put every community in Alaska on the radio.

Thanks for listening to AK this week. Tune in to next week’s show when we take to the seas with one of the few mail carriers in the country who delivers his goods by boat.