Vandals strike vehicles parked at Turnagain Pass trailheads

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Vandalism is becoming common at some trailheads around Alaska, authorities say.

Jim Cunningham, a retired high school teacher from Anchorage, experienced the problem firsthand after returning from an overnight camping trip last week at Turnagain Pass.

The headlights and taillights on his minivan were smashed. The hood on the vehicle had been stomped so forcefully that it damaged the engine.

Every window was broken.

The trip was meant to be a reward to his 13-year-old son and some friends for spending a Christmas vacation day sorting books for Volunteers of America Alaska's book giveaway, Cunningham said.

The last thing he expected to find upon their return was his minivan nearly totaled.

''It was done with such force and violence I just don't understand it,'' Cunningham told the Anchorage Daily News. ''... It really puts a damper on those people who want to go outdoors and think their vehicle is safe.''

Cunningham wonders what they would have done if someone had gotten hurt or become hypothermic while camping. The group might have been stranded, he said.

Seven or eight cars have been hit by vandals in the Turnagain Pass area in the past several months, the Alaska State Troopers said.

Girdwood trooper William Welch said that's not an unusual number. Even more vandalism occurs in summer, he said.

This past summer, someone set fire to two junk cars that apparently had been towed to the base of Turnagain Pass. But that was an extreme case, as was Cunningham's, Welch said.

Vandals damaged another car near Summit Lake, about 25 miles to the south, either late on Dec. 20 or early the next day, he said.

Troopers believe the same group or person hit both cars.

Cunningham's minivan was parked in a lot on the east side of the pass, where people ski and snowboard. Cunningham said he first noticed something was wrong when they hiked out to the parking lot about 2 p.m. on Dec. 21 and found a water bottle that had been inside the car.

Oranges also were scattered around the lot.

Several pairs of skis and ski boots were inside the car and were not taken. Instead, the vandals stole a sleeping bag, athletic clothing and a sandwich. Someone ate the ham, turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich, leaving the Ziploc bag and part of the crust inside the car.

Cunningham said he and his son hitched a ride to Girdwood to call for help. Meanwhile, troopers dispatched a tow truck after hearing about the vandalism from a snowplow driver.

Troopers said they have no suspects in the case.

''It's disheartening to know that these individuals are out here and they're getting away with this,'' Cunningham said.

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