A Yakutat Borough Police Department vehicle sits in front of the site of a fatal stabbing in Yakutat on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Yakutat Borough Police Department)

A Yakutat Borough Police Department vehicle sits in front of the site of a fatal stabbing in Yakutat on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Yakutat Borough Police Department)

Yakutat murder suspect, victim were longtime friends

Pair came to Alaska to fish, police chief says

The first murder in more than 20 years in Yakutat began with a verbal fight between friends, according to Yakutat Borough Police Department Chief Robert Beasley.

At just after 3 a.m. Sunday, the YBPD got a call from a woman who simply said the police needed to come to Weather Service housing, Beasley said in a phone interview. The same woman called soon afterward, Beasley recalled, and she was frantically yelling that someone wasn’t breathing.

Police arrived to find Washington man John L. Stapleton giving CPR to John Fergerson, Jr. in one of the rental units, Beasley said. The officer who arrived first went over to Fergerson, removed Fergerson’s shirt and found three stab wounds in his chest near Fergerson’s heart, Beasley said.

The officer immediately put Stapleton into custody, Beasley said, and Fergerson was later pronounced dead on scene. Stapleton, 46, was arrested for second-degree murder, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch. Fergerson, 61, is from Bremerton, Washington, and Stapleton is from Kent, Washington, according to the dispatch.

The dispatch also stated that the two men got into a physical altercation. Beasley said otherwise.

“It was a verbal altercation, not a physical fight,” Beasley said.

The two men had known each other for a long time, Beasley learned, and worked together for the Washington State Ferries. The woman who called 911 was a companion of the two men, Beasley said, but she was staying in a separate unit.

Weather Service housing, Beasley explained, is a group of housing units originally built for National Weather Service employees. Some units are still reserved for that, he said, but some units are for visitors. Fergerson and Stapleton were in Yakutat on a fishing trip, Beasley said. Fergerson’s next of kin has been notified, Troopers say.

Fergerson’s body was sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for an autopsy, according to the AST dispatch. Alcohol was likely involved in the incident, Beasley said.

Beasley said murders are a rare occurrence in Yakutat. The most recent one he can remember was in 1996 when Sandra Perry was found dead at the Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat. It was originally considered an accident, but in 2014, a jury found Robert Kowalski guilty of Perry’s murder. Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez sentenced Kowalski to 40 years in prison. Kowalski appealed his conviction but the Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the conviction this summer.

Bail for Stapleton was set at $500,000 cash, Beasley said, and Stapleton is currently in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau.

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

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