Michael Blanchard drifted off to sleep in his captain’s cabin, the small fishing tender bobbing off the shore of Knowles Head in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Squeezed into the other cabin were a young man from Spokane and a high school senior from Illinois, deckhands on the New St. Joseph this past summer.
They had been in and out of Valdez, Alaska, every few days, unloading the salmon they ferried to port for the hundreds of fishing boats trawling the seas. Things had been going smoothly for two weeks, though the second-season deckhand from the Lilac City, Justin S. Bullock, had seemed a bit depressed lately, said Blanchard, 61.
Just after midnight on June 23, Blanchard woke up to Bullock screaming at him. Bullock was standing over the captain, gripping a sharp marlin spike and flinging the blade around, police say.
“He just said he was going to kill me – started stabbing me,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard felt the spike slice into his back. He yelled and flipped over. The 24-year-old man jumped on him, straddled him, trying to stab him, but Blanchard fought back, he told police.
His yells woke up 17-year-old Brian O’Reilly, and the boy ran upstairs toward the tumult. Blanchard had wrestled the marlin spike away from Bullock, who wrapped his hands around the captain’s neck, reports say.
The three struggled. At one point, Bullock pulled two smaller knives from his back pocket and slashed at Blanchard’s throat, police say.
With a gash in his neck, Blanchard managed to grope around for the marlin spike and belt Bullock three times in the side of his head, taking the deckhand out long enough for O’Reilly to subdue him, reports say.
Blanchard and O’Reilly tied up Bullock with duct tape and rope and locked him in a small cabin. Then the two charged the New St. Joseph back to port.
Bullock was arrested. Blanchard was airlifted to an Anchorage hospital, more than 100 miles west of Valdez. O’Reilly escaped with a sprained wrist.
Now, Bullock is in an Alaska jail awaiting trial for attempted murder. Blanchard, recovering at his Seattle home, is planning to fly north to Valdez to testify, still not knowing why he was attacked.
“I wouldn’t have hired him if I thought he would do something like that,” Blanchard said.
It was the second summer that Blanchard had hired Bullock to be a deckhand on his tender. Blanchard keeps the New St. Joseph in Valdez, nestled among high glaciated peaks, lush valleys and a cold, saltwater inlet. The town of 4,300 is one of Alaska’s many fishing communities.
Populations rise during fishing seasons. For deckhands, boat captains often hire local kids or folks from out of town who want to work hard for good money, said Megan Peters, spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers.
As a result, the industry can draw a tough crowd, and authorities have come to expect incidents like the alleged mutiny on the New St. Joseph.
“Not out of the ordinary, by any stretch,” said Mike Perry, the assistant district attorney assigned to prosecuting Bullock. “You know, it’s a pretty rough-and-tumble profession.”
But attempted murder cases are not as common, Perry said. And especially not ones like the case against Bullock, charged with 13 crimes stemming from the incident in June. A courtroom in Palmer – 35 miles northeast of Anchorage – awaits his trial for attempted first-degree murder, four counts of second-degree assault, seven counts of third-degree assault and one count of fourth-degree assault.
But the jury trial may be a long way off – if it ever happens at all.
Having posted bail, Bullock was staying with his grandmother Bonnie Jean Bullock in Anchorage. She was acting as a third-party custodian as part of Bullock’s bail condition.
On Sept. 20, Bullock broke that condition by threatening to kill his grandmother, police reports say. He was arrested again.
That bought the defense some time. Bullock will undergo evaluations to see if he’s competent to stand trial – a process not the same as the insanity defense, Perry said.
“And that’s got everything pretty much on hold until people make a determination on that,” Perry said.
Bullock’s attorney, Lee de Grazia, of the Alaska Public Defender Agency, chose not to comment on the case.
Meanwhile, the prosecution is building its case against the Spokane man. Blanchard is ready to take the stand. O’Reilly would fly back from Chicago to testify as well, Perry said.
“I think it’s a pretty strong case,” Perry said.