TRAGEDY HIGHLIGHTS CHALLENGES OF RURAL PUBLIC SAFETY
A fire allegedly set by an inmate in the Napakiak jail has killed two inmates and injured a guard.
The fire was reported about 1:27 am on Sunday. Two guards were able to escape the building, but one was injured attempting to free the inmates. The guard was airlifted for treatment of injuries that were described as serious.
The blaze spread when one inmate lit a mattress on fire and the entire building was engulfed. The bodies of both inmates have been sent to State Medical Examiner’s office and investigators were enroute to the community on Sunday.
It took Troopers 12 hours to get to Napakiak because they didn’t have an aircraft available and could not find a charter with a pilot who had not exceeded his FAA flight time.
The two who died were non-violent offenders who were locked up for some type of alcohol-related incident, likely a DUI situation, Must Read Alaska has learned.
The jail in Napakiak is operated by the village, not the State of Alaska, and is staffed by persons hired by the village. There was likely not an adequate search done on at least one of the men, who probably brought a lighter with him into the cell. In some villages, inmates are routinely allowed to go outside periodically to smoke cigarettes; thus, the possibility of an inmate having snuck a lighter back into the cell has been raised as a source for concern.
2 pm update: Alaska State Troopers identified the prisoner victims as Becca White, 24, and Isaiah Parka, 22. Both were Napakiak residents.
The tragedy highlights some of the challenges for public safety in rural Alaska, where in villages like Napakiak, most people are related to each other in some way and the village does the best it can to create a safe community with the resources and talent it has. Village public officers and tribal officers in Alaska’s small rural communities typically do not have the same training as village public safety officers (VPSOs), who receive training at the Alaska State Troopers Academy. But they also value autonomy and sovereignty.
Napakiak, population 367, is on a sandbar on the north bank of the Kuskokwim River, about 15 miles southwest of Bethel, and about 407 miles west of Anchorage. A dry village, it is populated predominantly by Yup’iks and had first apparent contact with the western world in 1878.
A BIA school began operating in 1939, and by 1946 a Native-owned village cooperative store was opened. The community post office was established in 1951, and the airstrip was completed by 1973.