Investigation underway after Haines Highway work crew finds human remains

A "pavement break" sign by a rural highway
Work on the Haines Highway project, which will bring the highway up to standard for 55 mph. (Photo by Corinne Smith/KHNS)

Authorities have paused construction in an area where human remains were found by crews working on the Haines Highway project Monday.

Department of Transportation spokesperson Sam Dapcevich says that any time human remains are discovered on a worksite, it triggers an investigation.

“When we do locate human remains, we have a policy and a plan for each project. And specifically, any remains that we locate are treated with dignity and respect,” Dapcevich said.

Dapcevich said Wednesday that they are not disclosing the location to protect the site, but the area had been marked off and work stopped to prevent further disturbance.

“We immediately notify the (Alaska) State Troopers, the Missing Persons Bureau, the Alaska State Medical Examiner, the Haines Police Department, the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology and the local tribes.”

The first step is determining whether the remains are recent or historic, according to John Kajdan, a DOT project manager. If relatively recent, it could be evidence of a crime. Law enforcement and the medical examiners offices will work to identify the individual and see if there’s a link to a missing persons or even a murder case.

If the remains are from antiquity, a cultural and archeological investigation will take place in coordination with local tribal governments. In the case this case, that would be the Chilkoot Indian Association and the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan.

Chilkoot Indian Association president James Hart says his phone rang Tuesday morning.

“I drove out there to speak with the archaeologists and kind of figure out, are these human remains, and where they came from,” he said.

Hart says the tribe has a formal agreement with state agencies and federal highway officials that guide what happens next.

“The Chilkoot Indian Association and Chilkat Indian Village and the state will come together and convene and figure out wishes of the tribe and how to handle the remains,” he said.

To date, officials have released little information about the nature of the remains. The DOT has not said when work will resume in the area.

The project will upgrade the highway to a 55 mph design standard by realigning, widening and straightening parts of the roadway. It’s expected to be finished in September.

Correction: This story has been revised to clarify that work on the project was paused only in the place where the remains were found.

KHNS - Haines

KHNS is our partner station in Haines. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

Like what you just read? KTOO news stories are member supported. Support your community news source today. Donate to KTOO.
Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications