Truck strike kills, injures sled dogs in Willow

Jaye Foucher does not know the name of the man whose truck ran through his dog team, cutting the gang line and dragging half the animals four or five truck lengths down the Parks Highway before coming to a stop.

The collision was a series of accidents, leaving one dog dead, several injured, another on the loose and Foucher distraught, coming to terms with the long and uncertain road to recovery ahead.

“I’m definitely running on fumes. I couldn’t really eat. I am broken, Foucher said Thursday. “I’m just kind of alternating between numb and devastated. It’s the most horrible thing that can happen to you as a musher.

She was training early Wednesday afternoon in Willow, about a mile from where she and her team have been staying this winter, hiking the same trails they’ve been using since the fall. A snowmobile trail next to the highway was buried in heavy snow washed away by recent snow removal from the road, making it difficult for his dogs to run.

“They thought it was a little too deep and decided the route looked a lot more appealing to them,” Foucher said.

She called them back, trying to get them off the freeway. A pickup truck carrying a flat snowmobile trailer was heading towards them. Foucher frantically waved his arms at the driver to make him stop or swerve.

“I don’t know how he didn’t see us,” she said. “He just kept going full-throttle for the team.”

She estimates the vehicle was moving at 50 miles per hour when it passed through her line of dogs.

In the aftermath, Foucher said the older couple in the truck helped her regain control of her animals, as did another driver and other mushers who happened in the crash. A dog was killed instantly. Others were seriously injured and Foucher was desperate to get them to the nearest emergency vet an hour away as fast as she could.

“I was also pretty hysterical,” she said.

In the commotion, she did not get the driver’s name or information, assuming he would stay until Alaska State Troopers arrived on the scene. She left to bring her dogs to the veterinary clinic.

“We have no idea who the driver of the truck is. I really want them to come forward,” Foucher said.

An online report from the Department of Public Safety says the driver stayed to help after the crash. Alaska State Troopers had not released the driver’s name Thursday night, and spokesman Austin McDaniel said no citations or charges were filed. It was unclear from his response whether the soldiers had spoken with the owner of the vehicle.

Foucher was leading the 11 dogs she had planned to mushing in the upcoming Willow 300 race next week. Seven came out of the veterinary clinic on Wednesday evening, some totally safe and three or four slightly injured. Two others underwent surgery overnight and remain in serious condition, including one of its key leaders, who had to have his tail amputated and faces an uncertain future. Another leader, Noddy, died at the scene. As of Thursday afternoon, a 35-pound cream-colored dog named Felicity is still on the loose.

“(I) just pray that she finds her way to someone’s kennel in Willow,” Foucher said.

On Thursday, in her dog yard, there was a pile of straw and a bowl of food by the front door in case Felicity came back. Foucher worked hard to control the raw feelings recounting Wednesday’s tragedy, but burst into tears as an empty niche belonging to Noddy pointed out.

She’s still figuring out what the accident means for a racing season she’s been planning for a long time. A former rock musician who lives in New Hampshire, Foucher moved her team to Alaska to train for a rookie at this year’s Iditarod.

“I just take it one day at a time,” she says.

Donations poured into the clinic where his dogs are cared for to cover their care. A friend has set up a Go Fund Me to help pay for future expenses she will incur as her dogs are rehabilitated. Someone in his native New Hampshire even sent a DoorDash delivery of coffee and donuts to the vet techs tending to his team.

“I’m aghast and really touched,” Foucher said.

Daily News photographer Emily Mesner contributed to this Mat-Su story.