Two perish in Napakiak jail fire - Must Read Alaska
Connect with:
Sunday, December 15, 2019
HomeThe 907Two perish in Napakiak jail fire

Two perish in Napakiak jail fire

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.

Donations Welcome

Share

Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • I will probably be accused of being racist and just a terrible person for saying this, but here goes.

    In this world of not owning up to one’s actions, and lawyers jumping into the fray to avenge a wrong, I have to wonder how long it will be before the relatives of the two inmates will hire a lawyer to sue the village or the native corporation for wrongful death.

  • Saying the jail is operated by the “village” is poor language. Villages dont exist as a legal or political entity. It is probably a tribal jail, but it could be run by the city.

    The fact that no one is saying whose jail it was, when it is common knowledge to anyone on the ground there, makes one wonder who’s hiding what.

  • it’s Yupiit, not “Yup’iks.” and the community is not located on a sandbar- it’s on an island.

    these types of problems will only get worse w/ the hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts taken away from the VPSO program.

    • Gary, Just out of curiosity, where exactly is the VPSOs hundreds of millions budget that will be cut? Last I saw, Gov. Dunleavy was requesting to reallocate the unfilled $3 million positions to the PFD. It’s difficult to hire VPSOs when few people apply, and it’s impossible to train ghost vacancies. Where did you find the info about the hundreds of millions cuts?
      As an aside, per KTVA news, there were two inmate and three jail guards, one of whom tried to open the door for the inmates and received significant injuries.
      https://www.omb.alaska.gov/ombfiles/18_budget/PublicSafety/Proposed/comp3047.pdf

  • Thank you Gary. Not hundreds of millions. Must be another case of the misplaced decimal point. They can’t fill positions. A fire in a cell, started by an inmate has absolutely nothing to do with the VPSO program or lack of or luxury of. My brain isn’t that clever. I just can’t draw that bridge.
    .
    This was a horrible tragedy. My heart breaks for those that were in those cells. They were kids in my mind. I don’t know what they were there for, but they were young kids and they died a horrific death. They have families and an entire community in mourning. Guards were injured, and one clinging to life in Seattle. These are people. Human beings. These are our fellow Alaskans. More than PCN’s and line items on budgets. Pray for all of them.

  • Why would they lock them up for jealousy type who ever lock them up he or she needed to go jail for life find them who lock them up paythem there react to that man or woman who them lock them up jealousy people in napakiak residents there type of young and old respect them villagers and commity s all over in Alaska.

%d bloggers like this: