The other side of the Gulch: Starvation Gulch as viewed by UAFPD

Andrew Sheeler / Sun Star Reporter
Sept. 28, 2010

At a little past 10 p.m., Officer Clay Faris rolls out of the UAF police department to begin his patrol.  It’s a Saturday night, and for members of the UAF community, it’s Starvation Gulch, a night of bonfires and entertainment.  For Faris, it’s another night of keeping the peace.  This year was Faris’ fourth Starvation Gulch, having started at the UAFPD five years ago November.  According to Faris, Starvation Gulch has a mixed history of criminal activity.  Some years it’s quiet, some years not so much.  Faris recounted one year a few years back when there had been a large number of sexual assaults, all involving the date rape drug Rohypnol, that began around the time of Starvation Gulch.  With his shift starting at 10 p.m. and ending at 8 a.m., Faris is the first responder to many crimes taking place the night of bonfires and drinking.

At about 10:30, Faris pulled in to the Taku parking lot.  The lot was filled with roaring bonfires and crowds of onlookers as Faris parked and wandered around.  Several people spotted Faris and hurriedly poured out their bottles of liquid.  Faris noticed them, but let it pass.  Discretion was needed, Faris said.  Minors who consume alcohol may be violating the law, but the priority is with those who draw attention.  At 11:00 p.m., Faris catches one such individual.  Along with Lieutenant Kyle Carrington, also of the UAFPD, Officer Faris took into custody a young man, underage and clearly intoxicated.  Faris learned that the man had an outstanding arrest warrant for theft issued by the Anchorage Police Department and may have had multiple prior arrests for consuming alcohol under the legal age limit (also called Minor Consumption of Alcohol or MCA).  As multiple MCA arrests can translate into a misdemeanor level offense, Officer Faris radioed in to find out if the suspect had any priors.  Faris was unable to verify on the priors but nevertheless handed the young man over to the Fairbanks Correctional Center.  After helping process the extremely tipsy man and handing him off to the prison guards, Faris was once more on his way.

“Nights are the most fun shift,” Faris said.  He added that at night, he gets crimes that give him “immediate gratification.”  In other words, crimes where he can catch the bad guy and put him in jail right away.  Crime during the day, Faris said, tends to be more “cerebral.”  It often involves credit card or check fraud or other lengthy, investigative activities.

Faris hadn’t even made his way back to the university before he made his next stop.  A red Silverado ran a red light at the intersection of Airport Way and Market Street near KFC.  The driver passed a field sobriety test and Faris let him and his associates go.  But not before issuing a $160 ticket, making it a very costly red light.  Faris made another stop on Sheep Creek Road; a blue Mini Cooper whose driver was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol after crossing a double yellow line while passing another car.  Once again the driver passed the test and was sent on his way, although this driver received just a warning.

By this time, the bonfires of Starvation Gulch had all but waned and the crowds had completely disbursed.  Faris noted that the evening’s stronger than usual winds had likely helped the fires burn out more quickly than in past years.  The fires had burned out, but Faris’ job was just beginning.  After returning to the police station briefly to grab some more coffee, Faris resumed his patrol.  It didn’t take long for his hunt to see fruition.  As Faris was pulling out of the Cutler Apartment Complex, where two weeks ago he recounted several UAF basketball players leaping out of a third storey window in an attempt to escape him, a truck went speeding past him.  The truck was going well over the 10 MPH speed limit and, as it turned to go down Yukon toward the museum, its speed picked up even more.

Once again, the red and blue lights were flashing and Faris was in pursuit.  The suspect continued on for a significant amount of time before finally pulling in to the parking lot of the Akasofu Building.  Along with Officer Kathy Catron, Faris questioned the driver, a young man heading home from the festivities, on if he had been drinking.  The man failed a field sobriety test, blowing a .136 on the breathalizer test.  He was then arrested and Mirandized.  When the man was again tested at the UAF police station, he was found to be at .140, nearly twice the legal limit.  Faris and the suspect talked about cross-country skiing while they sat in the interviewing room, with Faris filling out the arrest paperwork.

“You seem like a decent guy,” the suspect said to Faris as the readied to leave the station en route to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for a blood test to verify the results.

“It’s nothing personal,” Faris said.

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