Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle said she felt like a hostage in the Alaska wilderness during an hours-long attack last weekend by a man on a snowmobile that injured members of her dog team and killed one belonging to another competitor
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Arnold Demoski of Nulato is accused of intentionally driving a snowmobile into Zirkle's team and then the team of four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King early Saturday morning. One of King's dogs, Nash, was killed, and at least two other dogs were injured.
Despite the attack, Zirkle finished the nearly 1,600-kilometre race across Alaska in third place Tuesday morning.
"Over the course of almost two hours one man, by using his snowmachine, made prolonged, aggressive and what I believe to be deliberate threats to me and my team," she said in a statement posted on the Iditarod website. Snowmachines are what Alaskans call snowmobiles.
"I was terrified," she said. "Had it not been for my defensive reactions, we could have been maimed or killed."
Demoski has said he was returning home from a night of drinking in a neighbouring village when he struck the teams. He was going about 160 km/h when he crashed into King's team and about 60 km/h when he struck Zirkle's team, court documents say.
He surrendered to authorities on Saturday morning after hearing about the attacks and checking his snowmobile, which he found damaged. He has been charged with assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
Demoski's attorney, Bill Satterberg, declined comment to The Associated Press this week, saying he doesn't speak on pending cases. He didn't immediately return a call left before business hours Thursday seeking comment on Zirkle's statement.
Zirkle said she has mushed on Alaska trails for 20 years and does everything she can to make sure both she and her team are seen. She also said she is experienced in sharing those trails with other users.
"It is on these trails with my dogs that I feel most comfortable and confident," she said. "That changed on the morning of March 12."
Zirkle continued into the race checkpoint in Nulato after the attack, which she said occurred over a 27-kilometre stretch of trail. She said she would have scratched from the race had it not been for the support of the Iditarod judge, the veterinarians, other people with the race and Nulato residents.
"They provided me with practical and moral support and I would not have continued the race without their insistence and encouragement. I thank them all very much for what they did that night," she said.
Zirkle said her dog, Clyde, couldn't continue in the race after the attack. Clyde is being reunited with Zirkle in Nome. The rest of her team is healthy and no other dogs were injured in the attack, she said.
"I also have no injuries. However, I am very sad and angry," she said, adding that her anger is "with only one man."
She didn't release a detailed account of the attack, and said this is all she is prepared to make public.
"Those close to me know the full story, as does the Alaska State Trooper to whom I gave my statement," she said. "The events of the night were extremely distressing to me, and I do not wish to make any further public statements on the matter."