Former Mayor Merrill Sanford examines the damage done to the Eagles Cemetery in Douglas on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. A vehicle drove through the cemetery early Thursday morning. Sanford owns the property. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Former Mayor Merrill Sanford examines the damage done to the Eagles Cemetery in Douglas on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. A vehicle drove through the cemetery early Thursday morning. Sanford owns the property. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Car crashes into historic Douglas cemetery, driver leaves scene

Century-old grave marker among damaged items

Merrill Sanford’s phone buzzed at about 7:45 a.m. Thursday, carrying bad news from a friend. Within minutes, Sanford was on the road.

Ten minutes later, Sanford arrived at the Douglas Eagles Cemetery, which has been in his family for more than 50 years. When he got there, he saw what his friend had texted him about: a Jeep had plowed through the fence around the cemetery and had torn up sod in the cemetery itself.

The Jeep was still there in the cemetery, Sanford said, but the driver wasn’t there. Police were already on scene, Sanford said. The cemetery sits just off Douglas Highway near Lawson Creek Road.

The damage to the fence itself is probably between $3,000 and $5,000, Sanford said, but other damages go beyond money. A decades-old lilac bush was ripped up, and a headstone from 1913 (belonging to John Wesley Stoft Jr.) was broken in half, along with a couple other headstones Sanford is still working to identify.

“Most of all that stuff was old and it’s sad to see something get destroyed, that’s for sure,” Sanford said. “I just hope nobody was hurt.”

There were no injuries, according to a JPD dispatch, and Lt. Krag Campbell said the police were able to track down the driver. The driver is a 35-year-old Juneau resident, Campbell said, and the police aren’t releasing her name because no arrest was made.

JPD is forwarding charges to the District Attorney’s Office, Campbell said, recommending that the woman be charged with one count of not immediately giving notice of an accident, which is a class A misdemeanor. There’s no indication that the woman was impaired or intoxicated at the time of the crash, Campbell said.

According to a 1995 CBJ report about Douglas’ historic cemeteries, the Eagles Cemetery was established in 1902. The cemetery was dedicated in 1904, according to the report, and Eagles Grand President (and Douglas druggist) Elmer E. Smith stated, “For when an Eagle takes his last homeward flight, here he may rest in peace.”

Many of the cemeteries in Douglas have fallen into disrepair over the years, but the Eagles Cemetery has remained well maintained and in good condition. Sanford lamented the fact that Wednesday’s crash happened in a part of the cemetery that was the most cared-for.

Sanford, a former mayor of Juneau, recently approached the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and proposed that the city take over maintenance of the cemeteries. The endeavor would require the city to hire additional Parks & Recreation staff, and Assembly members will discuss the possibility during next year’s budget cycle, they agreed at an August meeting.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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