Wayne Jones, 8/11/03

Similarities in nearby drownings
KOTZEBUE: Both victims named Jones; deaths were alcohol-related.

Anchorage Daily News (Published: August 14, 2003)

Two Kotzebue men, both named Jones and both with birthdays of July 13, drowned within 24 hours of each other in separate, alcohol-related accidents this week, Alaska State Troopers said.

The two drownings, combined with a teen- ager's suicide a few days earlier, made it a rough couple of days for the northwestern Alaska community of 3,000, said trooper Sgt. Karl Erickson in Kotzebue.

"Death seems to come in bunches, unfortunately," he said.

The realization of the most recent death began to unfold late Tuesday night when troopers received word that brothers Victor Jones, 37, and Chuck Jones, 43, were drunk and fighting in their parents' home. The family lives year-round at a well-established camp across Kotzebue Sound near the mouth of the Noatak River, trooper Andy Greenstreet said.

Another brother who was sober broke up the fight, Greenstreet said, but the others turned on him when he tried to pour out their liquor. With help from another person at the camp, however, the sober brother subdued his two siblings. To prevent further outbreaks, they wrapped each man in duct tape until troopers arrived.

Troopers from Kotzebue couldn't respond to the incident immediately because they couldn't charter an airplane small enough to land at the Jones camp's airstrip, Greenstreet said.

Then came a second call from the camp that the fighting brothers' nephew, 18-year-old Ronnie Jones, had tried to swim to a nearby camp for help. He too was intoxicated, troopers said. Ronnie Jones was last seen slipping below the surface, Greenstreet said.

With the report of a person missing, troopers called up the Kotzebue volunteer search-and-rescue team. Three boats carrying searchers and the troopers responded to the Jones camp around midnight. Volunteers located Ronnie Jones' body shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday.

In the meantime, Victor Jones, whom troopers were seeking on an earlier domestic violence charge, had slipped his duct tape restraints and made off into the wooded foothills of the Baird Mountains. He remained at large Wednesday, Greenstreet said.

The troopers tried to capture him last winter at the Jones camp, but he eluded them, Greenstreet said.

A day before, in the early morning hours Tuesday, Wayne Jones, 52, died when he fell off his four-wheeler and into a shallow creek in the abandoned mining community of Candle, about 70 miles south of Kotzebue on the Seward Peninsula.

Trooper Sgt. Erickson said heavy rains had swollen a normally shallow creek, and the deep water may have interfered with Jones' driving. The gold miner apparently veered downstream of his intended path, and when his four-wheeler hit a cut bank on the far side of the creek, the machine tipped over backward, throwing Jones in the water.

"It's likely that anybody (driving up the cut bank) would've done the same thing," Erickson said, because of the sudden incline.

But Jones was intoxicated and never made it out of the water, Erickson said. He may have hit his head, or the shock of the water may have knocked him unconscious, Erickson said, but Jones appeared to have drowned.

Neither the state troopers nor Kotzebue Police Chief Ed Weibl knew whether the men were related.

The drownings came just a day after a 19-year-old Kotzebue man hung himself.

The two Kotzebue troopers said they're not superstitious, but years of experience have led them to expect deaths to occur in clusters. Said Greenstreet, "Now we're just crossing our fingers for the next one."

Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at jgay@adn.com or at 257-4310.