ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Joseph Lurtsema, an Anchorage business owner and only recently a member of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, recently attended the organization's Kentucky Derby-themed Chamber Train.
The popular event is meant to be a fun networking opportunity for those who attend, and while Lurtsema said everything at this year's train ride started out fine, the event apparently quickly took an abrupt turn for the worse.
"It's just disappointing that this event makes me question my involvement with them in the future," Lurtsema said. "First three hours [were] great; networking, enjoyed everybody's company, made some great connections.
"And then the last last three hours," he said, "things changed. Turned more into a frat train. Open bar. Lots of people drinking."
That's when Lurtsema said multiple people - both men and women, and in separate incidents - harassed him both verbally and physically, including speaking to him severely inappropriately and putting their hands on his groin and buttocks. Read his full account here, which includes some graphic language, here.
"I felt very uncomfortable," Lurtsema said.
At Channel 2's request, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce issued a statement Monday regarding the alleged incident.
"We were notified and have been acting on this complaint for the last 48 hours," said Bruce Bustamante, President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. "We will absolutely comply to whatever requests involved in this investigation."
In an additional statement sent to Channel 2 in writing by Bustamante, he wrote: "As soon as we were notified, we immediately forwarded this information to law enforcement officials at the Alaska Railroad and APD. The Anchorage Chamber take(s) these types of accusations very seriously. No one should ever experience harassment of any type, and the Anchorage Chamber has a zero tolerance policy with regards to harassment or sexual assault."
Channel 2 was unable to connect with Alaska Railroad representatives before airtime Monday night, after reaching out about an official report with Railroad Police. However, Tim Sullivan, Alaska Railroad Dir. of External Affairs, said Tuesday in an email that he was aware of the accusations made by Lurtsema and that the latter had indeed filed a report with railroad police after being contacted by them.
"We were told about the incident by the Anchorage Chamber on Saturday night," Sullivan said. "Our Chief Special Agent contacted Mr. Lurtsema on Sunday, and took a taped statement from him over the phone."
Railroad infrastructure are under the jurisdiction of railroad police, which investigate and make arrests for its own cases. Staff can, however, get help from other agencies on a case-by-case basis.
As for what Lurtsema - who said he may run for a seat in the Anchorage Assembly in the future - wants, he made a list of requests for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, which includes communication of safety resources, physical signs posted stating misconduct won't be tolerated, and last but not least, acknowledgement that this is an issue and a look at all solutions for fixing it.
"There's a real problem here in Alaska," Lurtsema said. "You hear people all the time say that Alaska is the No. 1 sexual assault crime state per capita."
"We need to be a voice," he said. "Put a stop to this, because it is unacceptable."
If you or someone you know needs to report a situation involving sexual misconduct or assault but don't yet want to contact police, you can call different local groups for help. STAR, for example, can be reached by dialing (907) 276-7273. Police should be contacted immediately by dialing 9-1-1 if you feel you are in imminent danger.