FAIRBANKS -- The man at the center of a trial that has raised concerns that National Park Service rangers overstepped their authority says he was not trying to flee when told to stop for a boat inspection on the Yukon River.
Jim Wilde, 71, testified Thursday in federal court here about what led up to his arrest Sept. 16 in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve while he was on a hunting trip.
The gold miner said he got "frustrated" when two rangers told him to stop in the middle of the river. But, he said, he wasn't trying to flee to Canada when he refused to turn off his boat and sped away. He said he was headed to shore.
After a short chase, Wilde was handcuffed on the riverbank.
"Everything just kind of blew up," Wilde said.
There is no debate that Wilde cursed at the two rangers on a remote stretch of the Yukon River between Eagle and Circle, or that he refused to stop his boat. Neither is there any question that one ranger pointed a pistol, then a shotgun at Wilde, his 74-year-old wife Hannelore and his 66-year-old friend Fred Schenk in order to get him to pull over.
But it will be up to a judge to decide whether Wilde was attempting to flee or if he was heading for shore.
Wilde said he was looking for a safe place to park his boat because shutting it down in the middle of the Yukon River, as the rangers instructed him to do, was dangerous. He said he feared if he shut the engine off on his heavily loaded 21-foot riverboat in the middle of Alaska's biggest river, it might not start again and could drift onto a sandbar or gravel bar.
"Was it your intention to outrun the rangers?" his attorney Bill Satterberg asked.
"No, sir," Wilde said.
Prosecutor Stephen Cooper, assistant attorney for the U.S. government, suggested Wilde had no intention of stopping his boat and his hostility toward the park service ignited the confrontation.
"You were challenging their authority to stop you on the river, weren't you?" Cooper asked Wilde during cross-examination.
"Yes," Wilde answered with a shrug of his shoulders. "I guess."
A verdict from federal magistrate Scott Oravec is not expected until May.