Historic Nenana depot damaged by driver

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2001

FAIRBANKS -- A pickup truck moving between 55 and 70 mph slammed into the historic Nenana railroad depot Thursday night, sending an old safe flying through a wall and knocking out the building's windows.

The driver, Fairbanks resident Mark A. Malin, was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital where he was treated for his injuries and released.

Nenana Police Chief Milton Haken said Malin had a .17 blood-alcohol level and he was charged with driving while intoxicated.

The depot, completed just in time for President Warren G. Harding to drive the golden spike signaling the completion of the Alaska Railroad in 1923, suffered about $200,000 in damage, said Joanne Hawkins, who manages the city-owned building. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Haken said Malin was driving east on the Parks Highway and failed to make the turn in front of the visitors center around 11:30 p.m. He said Malin apparently drove down Nenana's main street between 55 and 70 mph, crashed through barriers placed around the depot and rammed into the building.

''It propelled the safe across the room, through the wall and across the yard and just short of the railroad tracks,'' Haken said. The safe was part of the museum at the old depot.

The white Dodge truck, embedded up to its rear axle, demolished two bearing walls.

''He hit it so hard it blew the windows out,'' said Ray Fox, who helped stabilize the building. ''Everybody says now we're going to have a drive-through window at the gift shop.''

The historic designation complicates the repairs, Hawkins said. People who specialize in historical repairs will be enlisted to do the job and wood with the same or similar qualities will have to be used, making the repairs both time-consuming and costly, she said.

Lifelong Nenana resident Mitch Demientieff said this is the third time the building has been hit.

''The other two had no excuse,'' Demientieff said. ''They were locals.''

Barriers were put around the building after the first car hit it in the '60s, he said.

The depot is a tourist attraction and depicts life with railroad and river travel before construction of a bridge spanning the Tanana River in 1967.

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