By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A veteran Iditarod musher said she was "terrified" during what she described as a prolonged attack by a man on a snowmobile that left one dog dead and at least three more injured in the middle of the punishing race across Alaska's frozen wilderness.
Aliy Zirkle, who still managed a third-place finish in the round-the-clock marathon that ended on Tuesday, said in a statement that had it not been for her "defensive reactions," she and her dogs could have been maimed or killed during the "prolonged, aggressive" attack.
"For two hours, I felt like a hostage and I sincerely believe that our lives were in danger," she wrote on the race's website late on Wednesday. "I was terrified."
Arnold Demoski, 26, was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of driving a snowmobile into Zirkle's team and the team of four-time race champion Jeff King after reportedly admitting he was drunk at the time of the incident.
One of King's dogs was killed. At least two of his dogs were also injured. King has previously said the snowmachine encounter "felt like an intentional attempt to scare me."
Zirkle, who has posted three runner-up finishes in the last four years, said the attack happened between miles 612 and 629 (985 km and 1,012 km) before the Nulato checkpoint. The nearly 1,000-mile (1,609 km) race commemorates a rescue mission that carried diphtheria serum by sled-dog relay to Nome in 1925.
Veteran musher Dallas Seavey claimed his third straight title early on Tuesday morning, crossing the finish line in Nome.
Zirkle said Clyde, a wheel dog who helps pull the sled around corners, was injured after he was struck by the snowmachine and forced to quit the race. Clyde was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and is being reunited with her team in Nome, she said.
Demoski faces charges of reckless driving, reckless endangerment, and assault and has a preliminary hearing scheduled on March 23, court records showed. An attorney for Demoski did not respond to a request for comment.
Demoski, 26, told the Alaska Dispatch News that he hit the teams while driving blackout drunk.
"I want this community to forgive me and I want my employers to forgive me, and hopefully I can get over this alcohol problem," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Toni Reinhold)