Three Men Jailed and Fined for Illegally Wading into the Brooks River

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

ANCHORAGE – Three men have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment and ordered to pay a total of $9,000 for illegally leaving the Brooks Falls viewing platform and entering a closed area of the Brooks River at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park by U.S. Magistrate Judge Matthew M. Scoble.

David Engelman, 56, of Sandia Park, New Mexico, and Ronald J. Engelman II, 54, and Steven Thomas, 30, both of King Salmon, Alaska, pleaded guilty to leaving the Brooks Falls viewing platform and wading into the Brooks River below Brooks Falls. While in the river, David Engelman was captured on a livestream camera taking selfies of himself in front of feeding brown bears. For their sentence, David Engelman and Ronald Engelman each received a sentence of one week in prison, a fine of $3,000 and one year of probation. Steven Thomas received a sentence of 10 days in prison, a fine of $3,000 and one year of probation. The $9,000 in fines were directed to be paid to the Katmai Conservancy, a non-profit that will administer the funds to the park for law enforcement and other purposes. In addition to these terms, each defendant is prohibited from entering any national park for one year.

In imposing the sentences, Magistrate Judge Scoble stated concerns of deterring others, the economic impact of tourism to Katmai National Park if someone had been injured or a bear killed for injuring one of the men. The court also noted the dangerousness of their conduct as well as the impact on those who witnessed the actions of the defendants and had their experiences in the park ruined by their actions. Magistrate Judge Scoble characterized the defendants’ actions as “drunken capering, and a slap in the face to those who were there.”

“The conduct of these three individuals not only endangered other visitors and wildlife officers at Brooks Falls, they also potentially endangered the life of the bears.” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska. “We are committed to working with Alaska’s National Park Service to ensure everyone who visits our parks can have a safe experience in seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.”  

“These individuals behaved carelessly and put themselves at great risk. Brown bears are fierce, territorial predators, especially when concentrated in order to feed on migrating salmon,” said Mark Sturm, superintendent of Katmai National Park and Preserve. “Things could have easily ended very badly.”  

Katmai National Park and Preserve in southwestern Alaska protects over four million acres of land and coastal resources including the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and the Brooks River area which is particularly notable for a rich habitat that supports one of the world’s highest concentrations of salmon and brown bears. The park and preserve also protects 9,000 years of human history integrated on the landscape and offers unique opportunities to explore vast wilderness and immense volcanoes, watch brown bears fish for salmon and trout, and many other activities.

The National Park Service, Katmai National Park and the National Park Service–Investigative Services Branch, investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki prosecuted the case.