Terror in the BWCA
I’m not sure how many of you remember reading about what happened in Basswood Lake near Ely last summer. Two groups of people in motor boats terrorized people camping in the wilderness. To me it seemed right out of the movie Deliverance only worse because the terrorists were locals from Ely, MN.
To my knowledge this is the first ever confrontation of it’s kind in the almost always peaceful canoe country. There’s a long history of bitter locals in Ely who have had to give up right after right because the "Friends of the Boundary Waters" and other environmental extremist groups who look for loopholes in legislation. There have been numerous things promised to locals only to have them taken away time after time. This by no means excuses the terrible behavior of these locals but what strikes me as odd is who some of these people are.
It is rumored that some of the assailants involved in the incident are or were in the business of promoting tourism in the canoe country. At least one of the individuals is rumored to have worked at an outfitter over the summer and another is the son of a man, now deceased, who used to own and operate a canoe outfitting business. To think of these very people threatening the lives of campers and firing guns in the Boundary Waters is almost unbelievable. What set these people off? Who knows, I’m just thankful the Gunflint Trail doesn’t have such bitterness surrounding our piece of heaven.
From the Duluth Star and Tribune…
Casey James Fenske, 19, of Ely pleaded guilty to one felony count of aiding and abetting terroristic threats; a gross misdemeanor for criminal damage to property; and a misdemeanor charge of reckless discharge of a firearm.
Fenske will serve at least nine months at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center or a similar facility and will be on probation for three years. He also will pay restitution for damage he inflicted on a federal water-level gauging station on Basswood Lake in an earlier incident and will be banned from the BWCAW for three years.
Fenske admitted shooting about 50 shots from his .22 handgun, including 20 shots during a confrontation with a family of campers. But Fenske said he shot only down, into the water.
When asked by his attorney during court proceedings if he agreed that his actions terrorized and frightened campers, Fenske replied: “Yes.”
Travis John Erzar, 20, also of Ely, pleaded guilty Monday afternoon in state District Court in Lake County to a felony count of aiding and abetting terroristic threats and a misdemeanor count of underage consumption of alcohol.
Erzar will serve no jail time but will serve three years of probation on the felony charge. The felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor in Erzar’s court record if he serves the probation without problem. Erzar also is banned from the BWCAW for three years.
Fenske and Erzar also agreed to testify against other men charged in the incident. Additional charges against both men were dropped.
According to Monday’s court testimony and the criminal complaint, Fenske and Erzar were joined by four other Ely residents the night of Aug. 7, including Barney James Lakner, 37; Zachary Ross Barton, 19; Jay Andrew Olson, 19; and an as-yet unnamed juvenile. Efforts are under way to try the juvenile as an adult, said Lake County Attorney Russ Conrow.
Conrow said Erzar was clearly among the least culpable in the incident because he was part of a group of three — with Fenske and Barton — who joined the incident well after it started. Erzar did not fire a gun and claims to have not made any verbal threat to campers.
But Conrow said he insisted on time served in custody for Fenske because of the gunplay.
“That’s what that this case is all about … the combination of firing the gun and screaming threats at people and the terror that created,” Conrow said Monday after the court hearing.
Lakner, Barton and Olson are expected to appear for their pretrial omnibus hearings on Jan. 22. Conrow said other plea agreements are possible but that he expects much stiffer sentences for some of the suspects.
Conrow leveled 79 charges, many of them felonies, in September against the men who, according to the criminal complaint, brought cases of beer, a bottle of schnapps, mortar-like fireworks, a Russian-style semi-automatic assault rifle, a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun, a .22-caliber handgun and a .22 rifle into the wilderness for their evening boat ride.
According to testimony Monday, Lakner, Olson and the juvenile were in one boat and were on Basswood Lake longer. They had more guns, fired more shots, harassed more campers and fired fireworks, Conrow said.
Fenske, Erzar and Barton were in a second boat and involved in only one major confrontation with campers, Conrow said. All six were present while some of them verbally harassed and threatened to kill and assault campers from across the bay. No one was hurt.
The family camped at the site told court officials they did not oppose the plea agreement. Illinois resident Emmerich Koller, his daughter and son told the News Tribune they feared for their lives.
In videotaped statements to law enforcement officers the morning after the shooting, four men — Barton, Fenske, Erzar and Olson — admitted to the spree.
Lakner apparently hasn’t made a statement to police. He’s been charged with 13 felonies and 12 other crimes. Lakner was arrested with a .45-caliber handgun and several clips. He has been previously cited for alcohol-related crimes and was charged with operating a snowmobile in the BWCAW.
Both boats entered a no-motor area of the BWCAW, and occupants of the first boat are believed to have crossed into Canada and fired shots in Ontario. A federal investigator on Monday said no decision has been made about federal charges but the investigation continues. Some of the men might face firearms charges in Canada.