Haines Borough Police Chief Gary Lowe said this week he did not anticipate filing charges in connection with an incident in which an 18-year-old man was run over during an underage drinking party early Saturday at Jones Point.
The man was med-evaced to Anchorage with severe facial injuries and was undergoing tests at midweek. A photo of him smiling with two black eyes was posted on his Facebook page Monday.
Lowe said a spongy surface at the party site west of the Klukwan, Inc. office may have been the difference between life and death.
"It looks like a real soft sand base was able to absorb the pressure where the tires backed over him, which is probably why he is alive and his injuries are as limited as they are," Lowe said.
The driver of the vehicle was a 20-year-old Haines man who was a friend of the victim. Another 20-year-old man was in the truck at the time of the incident, Lowe said.
Lowe said a group of perhaps a half-dozen people was sitting around a campfire earlier in the evening, apparently drinking. At some point, the 18-year-old lay down on the ground and fell asleep. The two young men in the truck believed themselves to be the last people at the party and didn’t see the prostrate man until they’d backed over him and he was in front of them, the chief said.
The pair in the truck called 911 at 12:50 a.m. and brought the victim to the police station, then left. The victim was taken to the clinic and later flown to Anchorage for tests.
The victim’s mother was the police dispatcher when the two others brought the 18-year-old into the police station.
"(The victim) was upright, alert and conscious. He had obvious facial injuries but he was coherent and able to provide police with an explanation of what happened. He didn’t remember being run over but he remembered lying down on the sand and falling asleep," Lowe said.
Two police officers on duty that night tried to locate the pair in the truck, but were unable to make contact with them until 3:30 p.m. the following day, Lowe said. "They woke up four or five people trying to find where they might be."
If the two men had been drinking, by then it was too late to charge them, Lowe said. "If they find you within six hours of driving, you can still be charged, but to not be able to find somebody for 12 hours and then be able to charge them on suspicion, we can’t do that," he said.
Asked whether the youths might be charged with negligent or reckless driving, Lowe said, "We called the (district attorney) and explained the circumstances and it was her opinion that there were no criminal charges to file."
The victim had been drinking, but won’t be charged, Lowe said. "The only one we’re sure was drinking was the victim, and he’s probably been through enough right now," he said. Police found between 20 and 30 beer cans at the campfire scene.
The victim’s family connection to the department "absolutely (did) not" compromise the department’s investigation, Lowe said.
The accident comes within weeks of a wreck that killed 21-year-old Jonathan Graham of Haines. The youths involved in last week’s accident were from Graham’s circle of friends, Lowe said.
"It’s frustrating, the amount of alcoholism here with young people," Lowe said. "You’d think one person getting killed last month in a DUI accident and another young person almost killed, the message would sink in. The adults of this town need to set an example. The abuse and misuse of alcohol has to come to an end because it’s terrible what’s happening to kids around here."
The victim’s mother said this week she was grateful for the support and prayers of the community. "We’re still undergoing tests. It’s been a scary situation and it could have been a lot worse. It’s a dispatcher’s worst nightmare."