Sitka man sentenced in theft of big salmon

Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2002

SITKA (AP) -- One of two men charged with stealing a giant king salmon from a seafood processor has been fined and ordered to perform 150 hours of community work service.

Luke R. Lowe, 24, pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and misdemeanor theft and was fined $500.

Magistrate Bruce Horton also ordered Lowe to pay $266 in restitution and sentenced him to two suspended sentences of 30 days each.

Lowe and Thomas Paine II, 22, were charged with burglary earlier this month in the theft of the fish, which weighed 82 pounds after it was dressed out and possibly as much as 93 pound before being gutted. The fish was one of the largest ever brought in to Sitka processors.

The fish was unloaded at Seafood Processors Cooperative June 6 by commercial trollers and was reported missing the next morning.

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

Police said Lowe and Paine were at a party where the big fish was discussed. Police said several people from the party went to the plant in a van, and that Lowe and Paine walked in, removed the fish and brought it back to the party.

The massive chinook was then moved to a home freezer. Early the next morning, according to authorities, Paine picked up the fish and took it home, where he filleted it and disposed of the remains.

Lowe also was ordered to write a letter of apology to the processor that would be available to the public. In his letter, Lowe accepted responsibility for the theft and said he had never intended for the fish to be but up.

Police said about 20 people knew about the theft. Assistant District Attorney Natasha Norris said no other charges are expected in the case.

Police completed their investigation after Seafood Producers Cooperative offered a $500 reward. Plant manager Craig Shoemaker told the Sitka Sentinel the sentence fell short of the seriousness of the offense.

''We're disappointed in the outcome,'' he said. ''The restitution of $266 doesn't cover the reward we offered to bring about closure to the case. I want the sentence to make more of a statement to the other 15 people (involved).''

The company had planned to mount the fish.

''It's unfortunate that we weren't able to realize our plants to mount that fish as a tribute to the history of the Sitka fishery,'' he said. ''There's simply not very many of these big fish left and it's a shame we couldn't preserve it for future generations to see.''

Prosecutors and Paine agreed on a plea bargain earlier this month that would have meant no jail time. 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.

Magistrate Horton rejected the deal. A change of plea hearing for Paine has been scheduled for Nov. 18.



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