ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Community members are concerned about the safety of Alaska village holding jails after a man and woman died early Sunday locked in their cells as the Napakiak jail burned.
Becca White, 24, and Isaiah Parka, 22, died in the blaze, the Anchorage Daily News reported on Monday.
A guard was severely injured trying to save the inmates, according to Alaska State Troopers. White and Parka had been arrested by a village police officer employed by the tribe, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
Residents of the Kuskokwim River village tried to fight the fire by pumping river water and using a garden hose to extinguish the flames, according to authorities.
Troopers say the deaths were the first in a fire in an Alaska jail for more than 30 years.
Miranda White, Becca White’s older sister, said Becca wasn’t charged with a crime.
“They were holding her until she kind of sobered up,” Miranda said.
White said her sister and Parka were close friends. But to her understanding, Parka had been taken into custody separately, also after drinking. Family members of Parka couldn’t be reached Monday by the Anchorage Daily News.
There is no record of an operating under the influence charge, or any other recent charge, filed against White or Parka in online court records.
Troopers have not confirmed when or why they were detained.
David Andrew, tribal administrator of the Native Village of Napakiak, the local tribal government, said he could not talk Monday.
Investigators from the Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Bureau of Investigation and the state Division of Fire and Life Safety were in Napakiak on Monday, Peters said.
A jail guard told troopers the fire started on a mattress inside the cell of one of the detainees but that it was unclear how the fire was set.
Under Alaska’s law, people can be picked up and held in “protective custody” for up to 12 hours if they are too intoxicated to care for themselves. In Anchorage and other cities, public safety patrols take drunk people to a “sleep off center” until they are sober enough to leave.
The holding cells in small communities serve as a sleep-off center, said Myron Angstman, a longtime Bethel attorney. Sometimes, even visitors passing through are offered a spot to sleep in one if there’s no other accommodation in town, he said.
Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com