Father ticketed for allowing children on snowmobiles

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Chris Prigge is snowmachining at Turnagain Pass this weekend as he has done many times during the past 11 years. For the first time, though, the Anchorage resident might prohibit his children from driving to comply with an obscure state law he ran afoul of a week ago.

Alaska law requires anyone operating a motor vehicle on public land to have a driver's license. The law, however, had been widely ignored until a February bulletin from the state Department of Law alerted law enforcement agencies to it.

A bill to require a license only for operating vehicles on roadways passed a House committee Thursday and is now awaiting floor debate. Meanwhile, parents such as Prigge are left wondering what to do. The minimum age to obtain an Alaska driver's license is 16.

The U.S. Forest Service cited Prigge last weekend for allowing his 8-year-old son, Chazz, and friend John Trueblood, also 8, to operate a four-wheeler and snowmobile at Turnagain Pass. The pass is in Chugach National Forest.

Prigge is apparently the first person to be cited since the bulletin went out Feb. 8, authorities said. He said he feels singled out and harassed by the officer who ticketed him.

''He drove through the parking lot on all three days and came straight to me,'' Prigge said. ''A number of people all weekend had kids under 16 that were riding.''

Doug Stockdale, Chugach National Forest spokesman, said Prigge was cited because ''he became uncooperative, disorderly and verbally and physically abusive to the officer.''

Prigge's contact with Forest Service officer Guy Hollstein began about 9 a.m. March 22, he said. Prigge said the officer told him someone had complained that Prigge was selling firewood in the recreation area parking lot without a license. Prigge denied that.

As the conversation continued, Prigge said, Hollstein noticed Chazz and John riding nearby.

''He asked if I'm aware of the law that states that children under 16 should not be riding motor vehicles,'' Prigge said. ''I told him yes, I was aware of the law but also aware the law is up for review and is possibly going to be changed. ... I figured we were OK. But he immediately took objection to that and made me bring the kids in and have them dismount their vehicles.''

Stockdale said the officer attempted to verbally warn Prigge of the law, but he became belligerent. He was then issued a written warning, which Prigge wadded up and tossed on the ground, Stockdale said.

Prigge said the situation escalated when Hollstein ordered him to load the kids' vehicles into his trailer so they wouldn't be used again.

''I simply told him, 'I'm not loading anything,''' Prigge said. ''No law says I have to do that.''

He continued arguing and then received tickets for disorderly conduct and permitting an unlicensed minor to operate a motorized vehicle.

''This isn't going to change my mind,'' Prigge said he told Hollstein. ''If you're going to give me a $100 ticket every time my kids ride, I'll just get a $100 ticket. That doesn't bother me.''

Prigge allowed his kids -- Chazz, Vance, 3, and Beau Bivins, 14 -- to continue riding after Hollstein left. The next day, Hollstein came into the lot about 4 p.m. and issued Prigge a second citation for allowing an unlicensed person to operate a motor vehicle, Prigge said.

Tom Reed, a friend of Prigge, received a warning for allowing his 5-year-old daughter, Courtney, to operate her kid-size snowmachine Sunday.

''I thought it was a stupid law and nobody's going to enforce it,'' Reed said.

Stockdale said Forest Service officers must enforce the state law, which applies on all public lands. They likely won't issue tickets unless someone becomes disobedient.

''If officers fail to take action, they could be held personally liable in the event of an accident,'' he said. ''We would like to educate people about this, and we are seeking their voluntary cooperation.''

Greg Wilkinson, Alaska State Troopers spokesman, said he's not aware of any similar tickets issued by troopers. Enforcement of the license law is low priority, he said.

Al Meiners, Chugach State Park superintendent, said his rangers haven't cited any unlicensed drivers either.

Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla and sponsor of the House bill, said he isn't sure if the law will get changed this session because so many other bills are awaiting debate.

''It sounds like these incidents are not even worth bothering with,'' he said. ''Why even have the law on the books?''

Prigge, due to appear Tuesday in U.S. District Court to contest the three tickets, said he's spent thousands of dollars in equipment and his family loves to have fun outdoors together. He always watches them to ensure their safety, he said.

''It's crazy,'' Prigge said. ''I'm going to fight it and I'm going to win.''

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