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Alaskans' brotherly journey to Vegas ends in grief

Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- He strolled into a western-wear store with money to spend, fresh off a record season fishing sockeye salmon on his friend's purse seiner.

The Alaskan gray and drizzle was setting in and Adrian Murfitt couldn't wait for his trip to see some country music in the desert.

He needed just the right hat.

He was surprised to find his long-lost friend Donny Millions tending the cash register. As Murfitt shopped, they chatted for over an hour about old times playing hockey and football in the street.

Murfitt picked black $275 Tony Lama boots with stacked leather soles, a belt with a big silver buckle, a Wrangler shirt and a black buffalo-skin Stetson hat.

They swapped numbers and planned to get together when Murfitt got back. Murfitt left with a laugh and the vaguely goofy grin his friends loved.

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They hadn't seen him this happy in years. He had finally worked through a long, painful breakup. He had lost 30 pounds on the fishing boat. He was lean and looking good, ready to see his favorite singer, Jason Aldean, in Vegas.

Avonna Murfitt worried about her son. When he split with his girlfriend of seven years, Christina Hoglin, the couple had to sell their house and divide up their four dogs. Adrian was broke and devastated. He could not find solace in snowboarding or rebuilding cars like he used to.

He trudged through spring, working at a friend's refrigeration repair company, drinking too much beer, putting on weight.

He spent the summer with his friend and captain, Sean Alexander, fishing off the capes of the Alaskan Peninsula. He thrived as deck boss, engineer, chef, the skiffman positioning the nets. The two fishermen had grown up in the same neighborhood and roomed together in college in Washington.

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