2016’s iteration of the world-famous Iditarod dog race was interrupted on Saturday when two of the competitors, front-runners Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle, say they were intentionally struck by a snowmobiler in a remote area outside of Nulato, Alaska. According to King and Zirkle’s firsthand accounts, the snowmobiler made several passes at their dog teams while on the trail, striking them and wounding several of the dogs. One of the dogs was confirmed to have died in the aftermath of the incident. The snowmobiler, 26-year-old Arnold Demoski, said he was drunk at the time and that the crash was not intentional, although police have not ruled that out.
“I embarrassed my community, I embarrassed my employer,” Demoski, a Nulato resident who works for the local village tribal council, told KTUU. “I just want to make everything right.”
Demoski says he does not remember the collisions, which happened early in the morning. The snowmobiler added that he did remember following Zirkle on the trail, and claimed that he did so to make sure she was alright. However, neither King or Zirkle said they required assistance on Saturday morning, and race organizers are treating the incident as harassment.
“He didn’t turn around, he didn’t slow down,” King told the Alaska Dispatch News, recalling the moment after his dog team was struck by the snowmobile. “I don’t know how [he] could have not known I was there. I think I was more of a target.”
Police officers said that Demoski was going at about 100 miles an hour when he collided with King’s dog team. Two of King’s dogs were injured in the accident and a third, 3-year-old Nash, was killed. You can watch the full interview with King below:
“Based upon the firsthand accounts provided by both Aliy and Jeff, we have no reason to believe these were not intentional acts,” Stan Hooley, chief executive of the Iditarod Trail Committee, told The New York Times.
Organizers added that both the competitors have been greatly affected by the incident. The Iditarod is already known for its grueling pace and 1,049-mile route from Anchorage to Nome. The injury or death of multiple dogs can be disastrous.
Demoski was arrested by Alaska State Troopers and charged with assault, endangerment, reckless driving, and criminal mischief. Is is not known if additional charges will be added as well.