Alaska officials are denying they’ve officially cut a deal to let off easy Kami Cabana, the now notorious seine-boat skipper indicted on charges of felony assault with a weapon after a Prince William Sound ramming, but they admit plea bargaining is underway.
The 27-year-old Cabana was at the controls of the 58-foot, 81-ton Chugach Pearl in the summer of 2016 when a 49th state fish war escalated into actual ship-to-ship combat.
Part of a Cabana-family led effort to wall of the back of Hidden Bay on Culross Island about 20 miles east of Whittier prior to a commercial, pink salmon opening, Cabana took aggressive action when the F/V Temptation tried to run the blockade.
In a marine version of road rage, she t-boned the potential competition. The result was a badly damaged boat, and a crewman injured seriously enough that he required a helicopter medevac by the U.S. Coast Guard.
After video of the act of war surfaced and a portion appeared here in February, Cabana became famous in fishing circles up and down the West Coast. The Temptation, as it turned out, had switched on a GoPro camera high in its rigging as it entered the bay to try to get at a swarm of pinks schooling behind the Cabana barricade.
The camera caught all of the action, including various Cabana-group boats that circled the listing Temptation after the collision to yell curses at its skipper and crew. No attempts were made to help the vessel or injured crewman.
A civil lawsuit was later filed and settled out of court. The details were not disclosed The owners of the Temptation and injured crew received undisclosed settlements. But the criminal case continued and erupted into public view last week when Alicia Long, the wife of Temptation skipper Jason Long, posted this on her Facebook page:
15 days community service
“Just listened in on Kami Cabana’s pre-trial conference. They expected to have a deal with 120 hours of community service and a 2 hour coast guard course. Another continuance until June 12th. If you have a problem with this. Or the deal they tried to make with the state call Judge Schally in Valdez and Aaron Peterson in Anchorage at the DA office. June will find the Cabanas fishing, is the fleet ok with her getting off so easy?? Fucking bullshit. Ram away guys, hurt whomever you want, there will be no penalty in the eyes of the State.
“Aaron Peterson 907-269-6250
“Daniel Schally 907-835-2266.”
That stirred an uproar that only grew with the rumor Cabana was to perform the public service in Tacoma, Wash. Cabana grew up in Girdwood, where she was a locally well known skier, but now also lists a street address at a home in northeast Tacoma.
Numerous attempts to reach Peterson by telephone in Anchorage last week to confirm any of Alicia’s story failed, but an email eventually arrived from Maria L. Bahr, the official spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law.
Peterson, it said, “asked that I respond. The matter concerning defendant Kami Cabana is still in pre-trial status. The hearing on April 17 continued the pre-trial conference date to June 12, 2018. As this is still in active litigation, the Department of Law cannot comment further.”
In response to a follow-up email, Bahr offered no comment on whether there was mention of a plea-settlement at the Valdez hearing as described by Alicia. She also did not respond to questions about allegations made by Alicia that after the Temptation was stopped by the Cabana blockaded, a couple of Cabana boats fished the head of the bay while others maintained the blockade.
According to Alicia, members of the Cabana fishing cooperative said under oath in depositions in the civil case that the day’s catch was then split among the boats with all claiming to have caught near equal shares. Alicia said in an interview that she talked to Peterson about this possible illegal fishing, but he said that he didn’t care.
“He basically blew me off,” she said.
During the sworn depositions, Alicia said, fishermen who did not fish the opening in Hidden Bay swore they filled out fish tickets claiming they had caught fish during the opening. Alaska law says this: “a person may not knowingly enter false information on a fish ticket or supply false information to a person who is recording information on a fish ticket.”
In a terse, three-sentence email, Bahr refused to address specific questions, but did go beyond the initial claim that the case is simply in “pre-trial status.”
“There is no agreed upon resolution in this case; negotiations are ongoing,” she said then. “We cannot speak about this matter beyond that. The Department of Law does prosecute commercial fishing falsification and paperwork cases under 16.05.690.”
Whether there is now underway or ever has been an investigation into the possibility false fish tickets were filed in 2016 is unknown. Whether the state has tried to obtain copies of the sworn depositions from the civil suit is unknown. What sort of sentence the state might be willing to accept as part of a plea agreement with Cabana is unknown.
The Cabanas have remained mum about the case since it began.
Alicia said in a telephone interview that her first exposure to the legal system has been frustrating. Prosecutors, she said, don’t appear interested in the victims or families of victims of crime.
“I understand there are rules, and there is the law,” she said. “But it’s pretty much all about who has the money.”
Cabana’s father, Tim, is a successful Girdwood contractor, developer, former chairman of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and part of a family of highly successful fishermen.
“The Cabana family has made nearly $1 million in one summer,” British film maker Bruce Parry claimed in his documentary series “Alaska: Arctic, with Bruce Parry.”
Some in the fishing community say they are concerned about what could happen if Kami gets off lightly after causing a collision that left a man seriously injured.
“If she walks on this thing, it’s a bad precedent,” said fishermen Kevin Kristovich in Ketchikan at the southern tip of Alaska. Kristovich said he’s talked to other fishermen from Puget Sound north to Bristol Bay who share similar concerns.
“It sets precedent for mayhem and chaos on the fishing grounds,” he said. “It basically says it’s OK to ram and jam.”
There has been a fair bit of that as is in the Alaska commercial fishing business over the years, but Kristovich said Kami elevated the boat banging to a new level. Jason Long feared at one point that the damage was going to sink the Temptation.
Since the accident, he said in an interview, the Temptation has been repaired and sold to another member of the Cabana group of seiners.
“They now have a 10-boat combine,” he said. “Kami has never been to court. She’s called in for every trial. She has not come to Cordova,” where she was charged.
Jason doesn’t expect she’ll ever visit Prince William Sound’s best known fishing port, either.
“She wouldn’t get a fair trial here,” he said. “I’ll admit that. Everybody knows me. Everybody knows what happened.”