See more of the story

A Minnesota Polaris employee is facing a reckless driving charge in Alaska after a December snowmobile collision that killed three sled dogs.

Alaska State Troopers said in a news release Tuesday that 48-year-old Erik Johnson of Roseau, a test rider for Polaris, and the company were charged with a single misdemeanor for operating the vehicle in a way that created "a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to a person or property."

Charging documents released Wednesday by the Alaska Department of Law include allegations from law enforcement that Johnson "drove too fast to perceive an oncoming dog team and failed to avoid a collision."

Company spokeswoman Jess Rogers on Thursday said Polaris believes Johnson was operating safely at the time of the collision. "We're deeply sorry about this unfortunate accident, and we express our sympathy to all involved," she said. Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

In December, Polaris said an internal investigation initially found Johnson was riding at an appropriate speed. State troopers said in December alcohol did not appear to be a factor.

When asked about the charge including Polaris, a spokeswoman for prosecutors said the Fairbanks District Attorney's Office doesn't generally comment on an open case, but said state law contemplates legal accountability for companies when illegal conduct is carried out by an employee on the job.

The crash was along the Denali Highway, near the city of Cantwell. The dogs — John Lennon, Buttercup and Solo — were owned by Jim Lanier, a famous musher and longtime Iditarod contestant who runs Northern Whites Kennel in Chugiak, near Anchorage. Lanier told the Star Tribune at the time that two dogs, named KitKat and Leia, were injured.

Mike Parker, who was mushing at the time of the head-on crash, told troopers he used a headlamp to make himself known while traveling on the far left of the Denali Highway, left of a snow trail in the center of the roadway.

The first snowmobile passed Parker without incident and flashed lights at the sled team, according to an affidavit from troopers in the charging documents. Parker told law enforcement it was blowing snow and dark outside, but he was able to see clearly at his speed.

Johnson told troopers he saw a faint light but couldn't tell what it was before the collision in low visibility. He said he was going 40 to 50 miles per hour.

In December, the company said it was not aware of any other collisions involving expert test riders and sled dog teams. Polaris tests its snowmobiles at its facility in Roseau but also elsewhere in the world, including Alaska, since the 1960s.