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Alaska bootleggers lead troopers on 25-mile river chase
Anchorage Daily News


August 09, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Two drunken bootleggers who were intercepted on the Kuskokwim River repeatedly tried to ram an Alaska State Troopers vessel as they led officers on a high-speed, 25-mile boat chase that ended with them in handcuffs, according to troopers.

Troopers got a report of a drunken driver operating a vessel on the river near Aniak on Saturday afternoon, and Alaska Wildlife Trooper Tim Hall came across it about 4:20 p.m., troopers said.

Inside were two men who each took a turn at the wheel leading Hall on the long-distance pursuit.

"That's probably the longest I've ever heard of one, but you can't put out spike strips on the river and put out their tires like you can on the highway system," said Sgt. Nathan Sheets, troopers' Aniak post supervisor. "You can't radio ahead for assistance. It just doesn't exist. You're kind of at the mercy of them until they stop or do something stupid."

After Hall tried to make the initial stop on the vessel, one of the men -- whom troopers later identified as David Passamika, 58, of Kalskag -- took the helm and initiated the chase that exceeded speeds of 40 mph and included efforts to ram the boat into the troopers' Jetcraft, Sheets said. Hall took "evasive action" to avoid colliding with the recklessly driven vessel until, after about 15 miles, the fleeing driver lost control.

"It appeared that he either passed out or slumped out from behind the steering wheel," Sheets said. "Once there's no one behind the wheel, it's in God's hands."

Before the boat could crash, the second man grabbed his slumping compatriot, threw him away from the controls and assumed command of the vessel himself, continuing to flee for another 10 miles as he too tried to ram the trooper vessel, Sheets said.

Upon reaching Upper Kalskag, a village on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta 348 miles west of Anchorage, the driver grounded the vessel on the bank. Hall pulled up next to the men, arrested and cuffed them, Sheets said.

As Hall processed the scene -- finding about five vodka bottles in the men's possession, illegal in the local option community of Upper Kalskag -- Passamika began spitting on him and challenging him to fight, Sheets said. The taunts continued aboard the trooper vessel as they made their way back to Aniak.

No one was injured during the chase, nor was there any property damage.

Thomas Napoka, 56, of Tuluksak, was charged with driving under the influence, eluding, third-degree assault, importing alcohol and reckless operation of watercraft.

In addition to being hit with those same charges, Passamika was charged with felony driving under the influence -- he has two prior DUI convictions in recent years -- harassment and disorderly conduct. According to court records, Passamika has been the subject of 27 criminal cases since 1985.

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