Alaska State Troopers track a fugitive at 40 below
As a bitter cold sunrise greeted Kotzebue, Alaska on Jan. 4, Alaska State Troopers were bundling up for a rare trek into frozen backcountry. Their purpose - to locate and arrest 40-year-old James Darin Monroe for the alleged sexual assault of a 3-year-old child. Monroe fled Kotzebue on Christmas Day following the alleged assault.
Alaska State Troopers Christopher Bitz, Ron Monigold, WAANT Investigator Kevin Blanchette and Alaska Wild- life Trooper Eric Lorring took their time warming up snowmachines in the 30 below temps, fighting false starts and layering up against the cold.
The cold, however, wasn't the only thing they were up against. Search and rescue parties located Monroe the day before, squatting in a cabin about 22 miles up the Noatak River. The SAR team backed off when Monroe, armed with a .357 magnum revolver, refused to return to town with them.
This left troopers with no choice but to set out on a morning trek in less than optimal weather conditions.
"We usually don't go out on our machines when it gets past 20 below unless something big comes up," said Investigator Blanchette. "This was something big."
The officers carried 40 pounds each of gear and emergency supplies, crossing the sound and heading upriver around 1 p.m. With the temp hovering around 40 below, and traveling about 40 miles per hour on their sleds, troopers faced a windchill of about 86 below.
Troopers were aware of two cabins Monroe had broken into. SAR teams reported he used wood and food supplies in both cabins. When they arrived at the first cabin, they saw signs of recent travel through the area, and stopped to shuffle out of their heaviest gear, in order to have better access to their weapons.
The first cabin was empty, but troopers continued together along the trail to the second, where smoke could be seen rising form the chimney.
Monroe exited the cabin when troopers arrived, perhaps not aware who was outside. Upon being faced with the four armed men, he was taken into custody without incident.
"He knew we were coming and he was ready to come in," said Blanchette. "He was cold."
Troopers located the reported revolver inside the cabin, and quickly got themselves and Monroe bundled for the icy trip back downriver.
"We brought some of our personal cold weather gear from home so we knew he'd be warm enough," said Blanchette. "We gave him a better hat and gloves— gave him goggles and wrapped his face up."
It was also necessary to take precautions with handcuffs at such temperatures.
"We had to put the cuffs over his jacket so he wouldn't get frostbite from them. We also wrapped another layer of clothing around his hands to try to keep the cuffs from getting cold," Blanchette said.
Monroe is being held at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome on the arrest warrant obtained Kotzebue Police Department. Troopers are currently investigating Monroe's actions following his flee from Kotzebue.
Sergeant Duane Stone, supervisor of the Kotzebue Alaska State Trooper post, said tracking and apprehending Monroe is a powerful message to potential fugitives.
"You don't get to run away from the troopers when it is cold out by going out on snowshoes in the backcountry. We will go after you. It is what we do."