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Snowmobile Attack on Iditarod Teams in Alaska Kills One Dog, Injures 6 Others

Snowmobile Attack on Iditarod Teams in Alaska Kills One Dog, Injures 6 Others 1:28

Two top competitors in Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race were attacked by a snowmobiler Saturday morning, leaving one of their dogs dead and injuring six other canines.

The suspect, Arnold Demoski, 26, was arrested on charges of assault in the third degree, one count of reckless endangerment, one count reckless driving and six counts of criminal mischief in the fifth degree, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Nash
Nash, 3, was killed when a snowmobiler crashed into a dog sled team during the Iditarod race. Stephanie Otto / Stephanie Otto

According to event organizers, the intentional attacks on mushers Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King happened along the race course in Nulato, Alaska.

Zirkle was allegedly hit first by Demoski, who "repeatedly attempted to harm her and her team," the Iditarod statement said. One of her dogs suffered non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.

"The snow machine turned around multiple times and came back at her before driving off," Alaska State Troopers said in a statement.

Image: Alaska Dispatch News
In this March 16, 2015 file photo, Aliy Zirkle arrives at the Koyuk, Alaska, checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Loren Holmes / AP

Twelve miles north, Zirkle was hit again by the same snowmobiler, according to troopers. "The snow machine revved up and was pointed at her and then finally left the area with no further injuries to Zirkle or her team," their statement said.

When King approached a nearby spot, he encountered a "similar incident," the Iditarod statement said, leaving the team's 3-year-old dog, Nash, dead and five others with non-life-threatening injuries.

Neither Zirkle nor King were injured, troopers said.

King told NBC affiliate KTUU that he tried to perform first aid on Nash and his injured dogs.

"I stood there as my dogs struggled in pain, with broken limbs and in the throes of death, for one of them," he said.

According to Iditarod organizers, King recovered a piece of the snow machine, which helped officials identify Demoski.

The suspect told KTUU that he didn't intentionally attack the dog sled teams, but accidentally struck the mushers and their dogs after a night of drinking. Demoski said he didn't realize what he had done until he heard what happened and inspected his snowmobile.

Demoski, who is from Nulato, told the station that Jeff King was his favorite musher growing up.

Image: Jeff King
In this March 15, 2015 file photo, Jeff King is photographed after arriving at the Unalakleet, Alaska. checkpoint in the Iditarod. Loren Holmes / AP

"THIS IS NOT NULATO. This is just one bad person. The people of Nulato have given the mushers a VERY warm welcome, this year and in years past," Iditarod officials said in a statement.

The Iditarod is a 1,000-mile race from Anchorage, in south central Alaska, to Nome.

King has placed first in the event four times, and Zirkle has finished second three times, race records show.

Iditarod organizers said both mushers plan to finish the race. Zirkle was in second place Saturday afternoon, according to race standings.

Carrie Skinner, manager at King's kennel and training ground, Husky Homestead, said King is committed to finishing the race. He began the race with 16 dogs, and is now travelling with 11, she said.

Two dogs injured in the crash are being taken to Anchorage for treatment, and their prognosis is good, Skinner said. She said King has always been welcomed in Nulato, and "we don't feel that this reflects on the village of Nulato at all."

Skinner said the team was grateful for messages of support from around the world. "It's a highly unfortunate incident for all involved," she told NBC News by phone Saturday.

Of Demoski, Skinner said, "We also feel sorry for him, because this is obviously a life changing event.