Britton Erickson, 03-11-00

Spill kills snowmachiner, 14

Tokositna River fatality is winter's 19th snowmobile death

By S.J. KOMARNITSKY, Daily News Mat-Su Bureau, Wednesday, March 15, 2000 >

PALMER - A 14-year-old Chugiak boy was killed this weekend when the snowmachine he was riding fell on him just south of Denali State Park, Alaska State Troopers said.

Britton Erickson was pronounced dead at the scene. He was the 19th person to die in a snowmachine accident in Alaska this winter, the highest toll for any season in the past decade, according to state records.

"There was no pain, no suffering," said his mother, Lillian Erickson.

Erickson, an eighth-grader at Mirror Lake Middle School, was riding with his parents and younger sister, Lauren, on the Tokositna River several miles west of the Parks Highway when the accident happened Saturday afternoon.

The family has a cabin in the area and frequently rides there, Lillian Erickson said.

They were headed from the Tokosha Mountain Lodge to Swan Lake, she said. Her son went on ahead while his parents got his sister ready, she said.

"He said he was going to play around on the river," she said.

No one witnessed the accident, but it appeared Britton was riding up the 15-foot embankment that lines the river and then jumping the lip at the top, Trooper John Cyr said. The third or fourth time he went to jump the lip, the machine, a Polaris 500, got caught in some alders, and stalled, Cyr said.

The boy apparently fell off the machine, which then pivoted, headed downslope and dropped on top of him, Cyr said. The snowmachine weighs about 500 pounds.

The family didn't find Britton immediately. They had continued toward Swan Lake, said Lillian Erickson. When they didn't meet up with him, they turned around, she said. They found him at the base of the embankment, about 200 yards from the lodge.

Britton was an accomplished rider, she said. He'd been riding snowmachines since he was 3 and rode as well as most adults.

"He impressed everybody with his riding skill," she said. "It was his passion and he did it very well."

She said the accident was a fluke.

"It was something he had done a million times before," she said, breaking into tears. "It was just a freak accident."

Her son knew about snowmachine safety, she said. He wore protective gear, including a helmet, and had been schooled by his parents on how to drive the machines.

In addition to riding well, her son was a gifted mechanic, she said. He repaired his father's machine and regularly worked on his own, she said. He also enjoyed mountain bike riding and four wheeling, she said.

At school, he had just been accepted to the National Honor Society and moved into advanced band, where he played clarinet and bass clarinet. On Monday, several students gathered in the school library and wrote notes and poems about Britton on sheets of paper hung on the walls, career resource counselor Pat Bailey said.

"It was something," she said. "The thing that came through the most was that Britton was very well thought of and a nice kid."

Erickson said she took solace in the fact her son was doing something he loved.

"One of the last things he said was, 'I love that river.' "