Two face felony charges over theft of 93-pound king

Posted: Monday, September 16, 2002

SITKA (AP) -- The fish was only worth about $100, but at an estimated 93 pounds, the king salmon was one of the largest ever brought in here.

The Seafood Producers Cooperative planned to mount the fish for display in its office. But then someone crept into a freezer, hauled off the fish, and turned it into fillets.

Now, months later, police say they've caught the fish-nappers.

Luke Lowe, 24, and Thomas Paine, 22, are charged with second-degree burglary, a felony, along with misdemeanor theft.

Police say they went into the freezer on the night of June 16 and hauled the big fish away just hours after it was brought to the docks.

According to charging documents, the two men were at a party that night when they came up with a plan to go get the fish.

Lowe, a seasonal worker for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, had been on the SPC dock when the fish arrived.

Around midnight, according to police, a small group from the party headed over to the cooperative in a van. Lowe and Paine went inside and took the salmon from a freezer, according to prosecutors.

The massive chinook was taken back and exhibited at the party, then it was moved to a home freezer.

Early the next morning, according to authorities, Paine picked up the fish and took it home, where he filleted the fish and disposed of the remains.

Even though about 20 people apparently knew about the caper, it took weeks before police had a break in the case, according to Natasha Norris, an assistant district attorney.

That break came after a $500 reward was posted by the cooperative. SPC plant manager Craig Shoemaker said he had someone in mind for the reward, but he could not confirm the money would be paid out.

Prosecutor Norris said the whole thing probably was a prank, but burglary is a serious offense.

''I don't think this was meant to be a big-time heist,'' she said. ''It went too far.''

The giant salmon weighed 82 pounds on the dock when it was weighed at the dock. The commercial fisherman who hooked it had gutted and cleaned it before he brought it in. The original weight was estimated at 93 pounds.

SPC planned to mount the fish and display it, Shoemaker told the Sitka Sentinel after the theft. The dock value of the fish, based on the going rate for large kings, was just over $100.

Paine attended his first hearing in the case Thursday, and prosecutors offered him a plea bargain then that would have meant no jail time. The prosecutors offered to let Paine plead guilty to criminal trespass and theft, perform 150 hours of community service, pay more than $1,000 in fines, and spend a year on probation.

But Magistrate Bruce Horton rejected the deal and set a preliminary hearing for Paine on Oct. 2.

Lowe is scheduled to make his first court appearance Thursday.

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