Iditarod Marred By Snowmobile Attacks

Snowmobile Attack At Iditarod That Killed Sled Dog Leads To Arrest

An Alaskan man is in custody after an alleged snowmobile attack during the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race. Called “The Last Great Race,” the annual event typically kicks off in early March, and dog mushers race to cover the massive distance between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska. The Iditarod is a naturally challenging and potentially dangerous event due to the setting of the competition.

However, this year’s event became dangerous for entirely unexpected reasons. According to the Los Angeles Times, a man targeted two different sled teams as they made their way “along a remote section of the Yukon River.” The individual allegedly plowed his snowmobile into the dog teams. It was described as an intentional attack.

From the Los Angeles Times, additional details have been reported.

“Alaska State Troopers said Saturday they had caught the snowmobiler responsible. They charged 26-year-old Arnold Demoski of Nulato, a community of about 350 people, with assault, reckless endangerment, reckless driving and criminal mischief after the incidents that left mushers Jeff King of Denali Park and Aliy Zirkle of Fairbanks badly shaken.”

According to reports, two of King’s sled dogs, 2-year-old Banjo and 3-year-old Crosby, were injured but survived the alleged attack. Unfortunately, the snowmobile collision killed one dog from King’s team, 3-year-old Nash. Zirkle lost one dog to injury.

Now in custody, 26-year-old Arnold Demoski told the Alaskan-Dispatch News that he didn’t recall plowing into anyone with his snowmobile. Demoski said that he was “black out drunk” the night he collided with both Aliy and Jeff, and that the incidents were unintentional rather than malicious.

“I don’t care if people know if I was drinking and driving. I’m really glad [Zirkle] and [King] are OK, and I really feel sorry for Nash.”

Demoski does recall turning around to see if Aliy Zirckle was okay (Aliy claims he came at her multiple times, and she had to fend him off with a wooden checkpoint marker). He said he didn’t going back to help or talk to the shaken musher out of fear of getting into trouble. Arnold said he only “put two and two together” after he saw the damage to his snowmobile and heard discussion of an Iditarod attack on the news.

Local police linked the man to the alleged snowmobile attacks because a cowling flew off the machine during a collision with Jeff King’s team. Jeff later said he estimated the snowmobiler was driving 80 mph. The Los Angeles Times reports that King recovered the snowmobile’s cowling and “brought it into the Nulato checkpoint.” Authorities matched the item to Arnold Demoski’s machine, and he was then taken into custody.

Although both Iditarod participants had claimed the assault on themselves and their dogs was purposeful, apparently authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the alleged attacks were alcohol-fueled accidents. In fact, the Iditarod officials and the Nulato Tribal Council were reportedly both “quick to blame alcohol” for what happened.

The Nulato Tribal Council released a statement about the Iditarod snowmobile collisons, saying the tribe was “disturbed and saddened” by the incident. “Nulato recognizes the complex behavioral health issues that impact our village, and we ask for prayers as we seek wellness for all.”

Because of issues with alcoholism and alcohol-related deviancy, certain villages have reportedly forbidden the sale of alcohol, while others allow it outright or only under certain circumstances. Nulato’s drinking laws are “complicated.”

King responded to the tribe’s statement, saying he felt “very sorry for the village and for the person involved” because of the “social problems” likely involved.

“Is it possible this will shed light to some that will change behavior in the future? You can only hope.”

Demoski is expected to be arraigned in Fairbanks on Sunday. As for the race participants, both Zirkle and King left their injured dogs in the care of race veterinarians before continuing onward in hopes of winning the Iditarod race. The official Iditarod website has Aliy in third place; King is currently in 13th.

UPDATE: The reported Iditarod snowmobile collisions led to the death of one dog; others were injured. The title has been updated to reflect this news.

[AP Photo/Michael Dinneen]