The tragic crash on the Iditarod course on Saturday morning left a well-loved dog dead and three others injured. Police have arrested the man responsible for the crash, and determined alcohol was involved.
Although the Iditarod Trail has been in existence for almost 100 years, the “Last Great Race,” as the Iditarod sled dog race we now know has come to be known, officially began in 1973. Driving a pack of 16 dogs, specially bred and trained for the bitter cold and challenging terrain, is not for the weak-hearted — human or canine. Yet every March, dozens of mushers do just that, traveling the almost 1,000 mile Iditarod route between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska.
There are always challenges during the Iditarod, including the potential for injury or a crash. Sometimes snowmobiles (or snowmachines, as Alaskans call them) cross the trail when a team is already present. And the race trail also crosses tough terrain, including the Yukon River and the Bering Sea coast, in addition to two mountain ranges. But common sense and awareness are necessary components for the participants.
Unfortunately, those components were missing for one non-participant this year.
Arnold Demoski, 26, from the village of Nulato (one of over twenty checkpoints along the way of the south trail used this year, as opposed to the north trail used in odd years), was arrested and appeared in court on Sunday via video, the Associated Press reports. He said he had been drinking Friday night and did not remember the crash, but when he awoke the next morning and saw the damage to his snowmobile and heard news of the crash, he knew he must have been responsible.
Demoski is accused of intentionally crashing into two of the lead teams at speeds of up to 100 mph. Court documents say he “repeatedly” crashed into the team of Aliy Zirkle, going approximately 40 mph. One of her dogs was injured, but will survive. Zirkle, who has finished in second place three times from 2012 to 2014, was shaken. ABC News reported that she posted a message via video on the Iditarod Insider webpage after the incident. “I’m really bad. Someone tried to kill me with a snowmachine,” she said.
Demoski later crashed into the team of Jeff King going close to 100 mph. King is a four-time Iditarod champion. Nash, one of King’s dogs, was killed, and at least two other dogs were injured, the AP reported.
Demoski has been charged with two counts of third-degree assault, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of reckless driving and five counts of fifth-degree criminal mischief. He spoke with KTUU-TV, an Alaskan news outlet, and said even though he didn’t remember the crashes, he is sorry. He also said he returned later to the trail not to harass Zirkle, but because he wanted to check to make sure she was okay. He said he considered running and hiding, fearing people would learn he had been drinking and driving. But instead he called the village police officer and confessed to the crime.
Zirkle’s team had been ahead of King’s team on the Iditarod Trail, and after Zirkle was hit, Demoski showed up behind King’s team. King believes when Demoski crashed into Nash, a 3-year-old male, the dog “was killed pretty much on the spot.” Two of King’s other dogs, Crosby, another 3-year-old male, and Banjo, a 2-year-old male, were injured but are expected to survive. King said it did not appear to be an accident and confirmed the high rate of speed of the crash.
Although there have been crashes on the Iditarod before between teams and snowmachines, they are rare. The more common perils are the extremely cold temperatures, blinding snow, fatigue of the mushers, and an occasional encounter with wildlife, such as moose. This latest crash on the Iditarod is made more sad because it was preventable.
Despite the tragedy, the other teams plowed on. Dallas Seavey came in first, claiming his fourth overall Iditarod win, and his father Mitch came in soon after, claiming the second place spot.
[Photo by Mark Thiessen/AP Photo]