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Snowmobile company employee charged with reckless driving after slamming into sled team and killing 3 dogs in Alaska

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Both a Minnesota man testing a snowmobile for his employer in the Alaska backcountry and the company have been cited for reckless driving after the machine slammed into a sled dog team on a training run in December, killing three dogs.

The State of Alaska charged Erik Johnson, of Roseau, Minnesota, and Minnesota-based Polaris Inc. on Feb. 8 with the misdemeanor in the crash near the interior Alaska community of Cantwell, located about 210 miles (338 kilometers) north of Anchorage.

Polaris believes its employee was operating safely at the time, company spokesperson Jess Rogers said in an email. The company is “deeply sorry about this unfortunate accident, and we express our sympathy to all involved.”

An email sent to Johnson was not immediately returned, nor was a message left on a cell phone believed to be Johnson’s.

A spokesperson for the Alaska attorney general’s office said in an email that Polaris was also cited since state law “contemplates legal accountability” when employees act within the scope of their employment on the company’s behalf.

Musher Mike Parker was training dogs on Dec. 11 along the Denali Highway, which is not maintained in the winter.

According to an affidavit from Alaska State Trooper Noah Belt, Parker was traveling westbound on the highway when he saw a group of snowmobiles coming at him. He said he began using his 1,000-lumen headlamp to make himself known.

One snowmobile passed him and flashed his lights at Parker. The second machine slammed into the front of Parker’s team, killing two dogs instantly and critically injuring two others. One of those later died.

The trooper interviewed Johnson, who said it was dark and blowing snow, which limited his visibility.

He said that shortly before the dog team was struck, he saw a faint light while traveling up to 50 mph (80 kph) but didn’t know what it was.

No court date has been set.

Last November, a snowmobile struck a sled dog team on a training run on the same highway. The team belonged to five-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Dallas Seavey, but he was not running the team at the time. Two dogs were killed in the accident, and seven others were injured. The driver was cited for negligent driving.

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