The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

LeMaitre lawsuit set for trial


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Mount Marathon covered in a blanket of new snow earlier this week.

A jury trial has been set for October in a lawsuit filed against the Seward Chamber of Commerce by the estate of Michael LeMaitre. LeMaitre went missing during the July 4, 2012 Mount Marathon Race and has since been declared dead. Although his remains have not been found to date, an Alaska State Troopers investigation was concluded to the point of a presumption of death.

The July 26, 2013 civil complaint alleges that the chamber is liable for the wrongful death of LeMaitre. As a plaintiff, the estate administered by LeMaitre's widow, Peggy, is seeking $5 million in damages. The estate is represented by Anchorage attorney W. Sherman Ernouf, who lists a shared office with the rather more well known lawyer and politician, Dan Coffey. The LOG was unable to make contact with Ernouf, as a phone number listed on court documents has apparently been reassigned to a third party and no other listings are available.

Without evidence to prove exactly what happened to LeMaitre, the plaintiff is apparently questioning the prudence of admittance of the 65-year-old rookie LeMaitre as a entrant into an "extreme" racing event. While implicitly questioning the competence of LeMaitre in entering the race, in line with their complaint the plaintiffs may continue to probe the chamber's level of responsibility for making judgment calls about who should be allowed to race as well as the content of race promotion.

The legal firm of Walker and Eakes is representing the chamber and partner Laura Eakes said in a Feb. 25 phone conversation that there would no comment on the pending litigation. A followup conversation with associate attorney Greg Henrikson shed little light on the details of the case.

However, Henrikson said the case is proceeding into discovery and acknowledged that the parties have received an unredacted copy of the Alaska State Troopers investigative report on the disappearance of LeMaitre. He could not disclose the details of the investigation either, as the parties were required to enter into an agreement with AST not to disclose details of the case. Henrikson expressed some reservations over recently instituted AST policies that prevent disclosure of information that on balance should be in the public domain.

According to Chamber Director Cindy Clock, the local nonprofit is insured for $1 million per claim. She says that efforts will likely be focused on settling the case as jury trials are expensive. However, Clock says that the attorneys and the insurance company have the initiative at this point. She also emphasized that the chamber's policies and representations concerning the Mount Marathon Race leave no room for doubt as to the responsibilities assumed by entrants to the race. Or the relative hazard voluntarily faced.

In 87 years of the running of the formally organized race, which was first held in 1915, LeMaitre is the only entrant to die or go missing. He was last seen about 200 feet downhill from Race Point where racers turn around and make their way back down the face of Mount Marathon. An AST search for LeMaitre's remains was called off on July 7, 2012, and the Seward Fire Department gave up the ghost on July 14. Volunteers, including family friends, continued to search the mountain throughout that summer for what will likely remain the race's longest round trip.

Shortly before the filing of the suit last summer, LeMaitre's widow made further public comment on her husband's disappearance in this story.

Sewardite Robert Reisner writes an Op-Ed page response to this story and the lawsuit here.


Reader Comments
1 — 5 of 11

alsodoubtful writes:

I have an extremely hard time believing he died on the mountain that day. If you notice in the popular photo of him climbing the mountain, he has a huge smile on his face and a passport-sized object in the right-hand pocket of his shorts. Interesting...


Many of you people adding comments on this article are ignorant of the facts. The point of this lawsuit is the fact that the last person to see Michael alive was the man who should have been waiting for him at the top of the mountain. However, the trail guide chose to descend the mountain before Michael had made it to the top.You never leave a racer on the trail. NEVER. Michael didn't know where to turn around or where to go. NEGLIGENCE!

Daughter writes:

Mr. Kurtz - Since you have opened the gates to publishing your own personal speculations, I would also like to share mine. You, sir, in my speculative opinion, show cowardice in your writing. My father's level of integrity, physical fitness, and experience in extreme outdoor races would put most men to shame. Using words in your article such as - the plaintiff apparently... - shows that you know not what or who you are talking about. Shame on you sir.

AKRunner writes:

He knew what he signed up for he had lived in Alaska since the `60's and had watched the race many times. He was a runner, diver, had participated in extreme events, and attended the safety meeting. Many races close down checkpoints and the finish line before the last person arrives this is normal. A trail sweep would not have found him as he was not on the race trail or others near it, we checked them all. He knew where to go and chose a different path that is not the race committees fault.

mike writes:

The Chamber knew he was on the mountain. They left him there. Had his wife not told them he was there, they would have never known he was even lost. A jury already concluded unanimously that he died on the mountain that day. The race is accountable to the first and the last runner. They left this guy for dead.


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