Outlaw riders rile city residents

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- City law forbids riding snowmachines anywhere in Alaska largest city. But in nearly every neighborhood, residents report snowmachiners buzzing down the streets, through back yards, along utility rights of way, in parks and gravel pits. And some say police don't write citations even when they stop the violators.

Police say they get numerous calls about the riders whenever the snow starts falling. Now and then, they'll even catch someone. Under the current policy of leaving each case to the officer's discretion, punishment generally amounts to a warning.

''The folks who lived here before me called and called (police) but could get nowhere,'' said Eric Menck, 39, who recently installed the third fence in as many years trying to block a favored route that outlaw snowmachiners follow past his home in South Anchorage.

''Most of us don't bother calling the police because they're not going to do anything,'' said Ben Arians, a high school ski coach who saw two snowmachiners riding on the groomed ski trails of Kincaid Park on the evening of Dec. 12.

''I've told guys in the Hillside area that we need to show a little less leniency,'' said Sgt. Mark Thelen, head of a police snowmobile unit that usually spends its riding time on search-and-rescue missions.

Thelen, other local officials and a member of a statewide snowmobile club attended a Hillside meeting last month to hear residents' concerns that a rider might one day crash into someone. Such collisions have killed two Mat-Su pedestrians in recent years.

''It's a tremendous public safety issue,'' said Jeff Clarke, vice president of the Mid-Hillside Community Council, which sponsored the meeting. ''It's going to be some innocent person, a person walking or a child sledding.''

Menck, the South Anchorage resident, said he saw a mother and child almost fall into Campbell Creek last spring when they jumped to miss a snowmachine. Then at the beginning of this month, two teenage girls put a snowmachine right into the creek 200 yards outside Menck's window. They jumped off just before it crashed through the ice. They were not cited.

A citation for illegal riding carries a $100 fine and mandatory impoundment of the vehicle. But police seldom issue citations.

''I know we give lots of warnings and don't give citations and don't impound the machine,'' Sgt. Thelen said.

''If we follow the tracks to their home, if we have someone to contact, we'll go explain the laws to them,'' Thelen said. ''We'll give them the benefit of the doubt.''

Busting outlaw riders is not a high priority. And what patrol officer is going to catch a machine that can zip off road at 40 mph and faster?

''We get calls all the time, but we're driving two-wheel-drive cars,'' said officer Dave Rochford. ''There's no way we can chase a snowmobiler. They'll get on a trail and they're gone.''

Jerry Lewanski, chief ranger at Chugach State Park, believes a crackdown is the only way to deal with outlaws. Snowmachines are allowed in some parts of the park he and his rangers patrol.

''Over the years we've put a lot of pressure on people who ride illegally in the park,'' Lewanski said. ''We'll follow tracks back to the residence, issue some pretty hefty ($200) fines, impound, whatever it takes.''

The park rangers issue 20 to 100 citations a year, depending on the amount of snow, he said. So far this year the park has issued a dozen.

''We don't tolerate it at all (because it gives) ammunition to the anti-snowmobile people,'' Lewanski said. ''So we have a decent truce in the park between different factions.''



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