James Waskey 08-26-06

Body may be that of man on the run
RUNAWAYS: James Waskey fled with his pregnant girlfriend, 15.

By ALEX deMARBAN, Anchorage Daily News, Published: August 26, 2006

A body discovered this week by Canadian tourists rafting the Yukon River may belong to a Mountain Village man who had been on the run from Alaska State Troopers with his young girlfriend, troopers said Friday.

James Waskey, 19, has been wanted for more than a month on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor -- his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend. He's also wanted in the theft of a skiff from the Western Alaska village in late July, said trooper Teague Widmier in Bethel.

That's when the pair apparently fled concerned parents and troopers investigating the illicit romance.

The two traveled up the river, camping in the woods for about three weeks and stealing food, guns and gas from fish camps, according to reports from people in villages, Widmier said. The girl was found Aug. 12 but the hunt for Waskey continued.

The decomposed body that is believed to be Waskey was caught in the hull of the Canadians' raft. No one else is reported missing from the Mountain Village area, Widmier said.The Yup'ik village on the lower Yukon is 428 air miles northwest of Anchorage.

Troopers say they had been most concerned about the safety of the girl, who is eight months pregnant. Villagers believed that she had been abducted against her will and that Waskey was armed and dangerous.

Prominent Yup'ik leaders urged troopers and state officials -- in letters and articles in Bethel newspapers -- to intensify the manhunt.

Waskey was spotted by villagers several times but eluded responding troopers, Widmier said.

It appears the girl voluntarily left home, said Sgt. Robert Baty in Aniak.

He and other troopers found her Aug. 12, safe and healthy, at the couple's campsite in the woods near Russian Mission. She was sitting under a rain tarp strung between trees with an assortment of canned food and salmon nearby.

"She told me she wasn't forced to go," Baty said, "that they had planned to run away."

Russian Mission is 80 air miles east of Mountain Village. It's farther by boat.

Waskey had traveled there with his girlfriend. Baty chased him near the campsite but came up empty. Baty stopped with just 15 yards between them because Waskey reached into the waist of his baggy jeans as if to grab a handgun, Baty said.

Waskey then disappeared into the woods.

Troopers believe Waskey stole a .22-caliber handgun, a rifle and possibly other guns, all reported missing from fish camps where people have been netting chum salmon, Widmier said.

The girl was cooperative with troopers, who escorted her to Mountain Village that day, Baty said. She has not been charged with any crimes, he said.

The unborn baby seems to be healthy too, said the girl's grandfather, Michael Sheppard Sr., reached Friday in Mountain Village.

The girl and her mother were at an Anchorage hospital to see doctors, he said.

"We're just all happy she's safe and home," he said. "We worried about her for a long, long time."

The girl's father, Michael Sheppard Jr., is fighting fires outside the village, Sheppard said. He could not be reached.

Sheppard Jr. wanted troopers to stop the young couple's illicit romance, he told The Tundra Drums, a Bethel newspaper.

The duo left home after troopers began questioning Waskey, Baty said.

Their affair is illegal given their ages, he said. Alaska law prohibits sexual relations between an adult 18 or older and a child under 16.

After fleeing the village, the couple apparently traveled up the Yukon in the skiff, troopers said. It was recovered about 10 miles upriver from Russian Mission, four days after it was reported stolen July 22, Widmier said.

The body snagged by the rafters' had been in the water at least a week when it was found Tuesday.

The rafters, floating from Canada on a trip that began more than two months ago, watched as the body swept under the log-and-plywood raft at a slough near Marshall, Widmier said.

It appears there was no foul play and the individual drowned, he said.

The body was shipped to the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage on Friday for conclusive identification and autopsy.

Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at ademarban@adn.com or 1-907-257-4310.

Body identified as Mountain Village man
YUKON RIVER: 19-year-old who was on the run from the law drowned, troopers say.

By ALEX deMARBAN, Anchorage Daily News, Published: August 31, 2006

A body found along the Yukon River last week is that of a man who fled a Western Alaska village with his young pregnant lover and eluded troopers for weeks, Alaska State Troopers said.

James Waskey, 19, and his 15-year-old girlfriend ran away from their homes in Mountain Village in late July after troopers began questioning their illegal love affair, troopers said.

Alaska law prohibits sexual relations between an adult 18 or older and a child under 16.

Waskey was wanted on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and in the theft of a skiff from the Yup'ik village, troopers said.

Mountain Village, population 786, is 428 air miles northwest of Anchorage.

As the manhunt wore on, villagers along the river, worried that Waskey had taken the girl against her will and might hurt her, urged troopers in letters and in Bethel newspapers to intensify the search.

The couple got as far as Russian Mission, about 80 air miles southeast of Mountain Village. Waskey stole at least two guns along the way, possibly more, troopers believe.

Troopers found the girl near Russian Mission -- eight months pregnant and healthy -- sitting under a tarp at a campsite Aug. 12. She said she left home voluntarily, Sgt. Robert Baty said.

The girl has returned home and likely won't be charged, Baty said.

The identity of Waskey's decomposed body was confirmed Wednesday through fingerprints, trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

It appears Waskey drowned, falling into the river from a canoe he'd stolen from Russian Mission several weeks after troopers recovered the stolen skiff, Wilkinson said.

Troopers recovered the body last Thursday, at a slough near Marshall, after rafters from Canada found it.

"There is no indication of foul play," Wilkinson said.

Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at ademarban@adn.com or (907) 257-4310.