Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:43 PM on Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Charter captain faces multiple charges

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

A confrontation involving two boats near East Chugach Island on Friday morning has resulted in three felony charges and two misdemeanor charges against Capt. Steve Button, owner and operator of Crystal Sea Charters.

According to interviews conducted by Alaska State Trooper David Chaffin and recorded in a court affidavit, Aaron Isenhour, his brother AJ and Dan Miotke were drifting and fishing for lingcod in Isenhour's 28-foot fishing boat about three miles south of East Chugach Island in the Lower Cook Inlet. About 8 a.m., a second boat Isenhour recognized as the Donna Mae, a charter boat operated by Button, began fishing nearby.

At about 10 a.m., Isenhour said the engines of the Donna Mae started and the vessel began traveling away from Isenhour's boat. At a distance of about 40 yards, the Donna Mae turned around and began accelerating toward Isenhour and his fishing partners.

"Aaron Isenhour estimated that the Donna Mae was traveling at about 17 knots directly at them," said Chaffin in the court affidavit. "The vessel continued traveling directly at the side of their boat until it was about four or five feet away from them, when it abruptly changed direction."

The sudden change of direction produced a large wake that rocked Isenhour's vessel, causing him to nearly fall overboard. The wake also washed over the transom of Isenhour's vessel, almost swamping it.

"During the incident, Aaron Isenhour could see into the pilot house of the Donna Mae and recognized the operator as Button," said Chaffin.

Interviews by Chaffin with AJ Isenhour and Miotke matched Isenhour's account of that morning's events.

"All three individuals stated they were worried that Button was going to either hit them with his boat or swamp their boat and cause it to sink, placing them in danger of imminent physical injury," said Chaffin.

The Isenhours and Miotke also reported it appeared Button had several charter clients on board at the time of the incident.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday, Chaffin said he made contact with Button at the Homer Harbor. A review of Button's sport fish guide logbook confirmed Button was on a guided trip the previous day. Button acknowledged to Chaffin that he had been fishing with clients south of East Chugach Island, but stated while they were fishing a boat he did not recognize showed up and began "following him" as he was fishing.

"He stated that this made him upset, but that there were no words exchanged about it," said Chaffin. "He initially denied any kind of incident happened at all, but later in the conversation he stated that he 'did not drive at the other boat, but that he drove around them.'"

Button has been charged with three counts of third-degree assault, a class C felony, one count of reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, and one count of prohibited operation of a watercraft for operating his vessel in a manner that endangered the life and property of Aaron Isenhour, AJ Isenhour and Miotke. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 3 in Homer.

Isenhour is captain of the Serenity, the private boat on which the winning fish was caught during the 2012 Homer Winter King Tournament in March. During the 2011 Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, the third largest fish during the month of August was caught on a boat operated by Button. In the 1998 Homer Chamber of Commerce's Labor Day halibut tournament, the winning fish also was caught by an angler fishing with Button on the Donna Mae.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben. jackinsky@homernews.com.