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Furnace Malfunction Blamed For Weekend Carbon Monoxide Poisonings

St. Paul, Minn. — Authorities said Monday that a malfunctioning furnace was to blame for the carbon monoxide poisonings at a home near Bemidji over the weekend.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said a utility company inspector found that the propane-gas furnace had malfunctioned, letting out the deadly, odorless gas into the home as four people slept. The home had no working carbon monoxide detector.

Hodapp said 50-year-old Coleen Jennings was dead when rescue workers and sheriff’s deputies arrived Saturday morning at the home in Frohn Township, which is located eight miles east of Bemidji.

Three other people who were in the home — 57-year-old Vincent Beyl, 24-year-old Emma Jennings and 30-year-old Christopher Crew — were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis for treatment. Hodapp said Beyl has been released. Jennings was in satisfactory condition and Crew was in serious condition Monday morning, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

In addition, Coleen Jennings’ son and three sheriff’s deputies were treated at a Bemidji hospital for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and released.

Hodapp said the 911 call came from 20-year-old Gary Jennings, who arrived home to find his family unconscious. His mother was in the bathroom, his sister and her boyfriend were sleeping upstairs, and Beyl, his mother’s boyfriend, was sprawled out at the foot of the stairs in the basement, Hodapp said.

“The victim was deceased already, obviously, and the rest of them were in severe medical distress,” he said, adding that investigators believe the poisonings were accidental.

Hodapp said autopsy results for Coleen Jennings are pending.

The carbon monoxide poisonings were the first in recent years in Beltrami County, Hodapp said. He recommended that residents have their furnaces and gas water heaters checked regularly and install carbon monoxide detectors. He also said people should be aware of the symptoms.

“If you start to feel nauseated or feel headaches coming on, that’s something that people don’t necessarily think of — that they’re being poisoned by carbon monoxide,” he said.


Winter Driving: Expected Snow Storm Signals Need For Caution

Bemidji Pioneer

Plan ahead, announce destination, departure and expected arrival times and carry a Minnesota winter survival kit.

Those are some of the tips Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp has offered as Minnesota awaits an expected snowstorm the Christmas holiday.

“They’re saying it’s going to cover most of the state with up to half a foot of snow,” Hodapp said.

People should wear warm clothes and equip the vehicle with energy food such as candy or granola bars. He said at one time people carried a roll of toilet paper in a coffee can and rubbing alcohol to soak the roll as fuel. But propane heaters are available and even a candle in a can provides significant heat in a car. However, it’s important to keep a window cracked so the flame doesn’t use up the oxygen in the vehicle, Hodapp said.

If the car goes in the ditch, he said it’s necessary to make sure the tailpipe is free of snow to prevent carbon monoxide from building up in the vehicle.

A shovel, warm blanket, road flares and flashlights that work are also part of the survival kit. And Hodapp warned people not to take for granted that their cell phones will allow them to call for help. They might go off the road in an area with no cell phone reception.
In addition, Hodapp listed the following precautions:

  • Get a tune-up.
  • Check battery.
  • Check coolant.
  • Check Wipers.
  • Keep gas tank close to full.
  • Keep washer fluid full and carry an extra gallon.
  • Sand bags.
  • Block heater.
  • Snow tires.

Drive slowly, anticipate, plan, drive defensively.

Decrease speed and leave plenty of room to stop, at least three times more space than usual behind the car in front of you.

Brake gently to avoid skidding. If wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.

Keep your lights and windshield clean.

Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.

Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your wheels skid, take foot off the accelerator, steer in the direction the front wheels should go. If rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.

If rear wheels start sliding the other way, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.

If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid, take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.

As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck, don’t spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.

Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.

Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.

Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.

Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.

Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Other necessary equipment includes:

  • Jumper cables.
  • Tow and tire chains.
  • Bag of salt or cat litter.
  • Tool kit.
  • Reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth.
  • Compass.
  • First aid kit.
  • Ice scraper and snow brush.
  • Wooden stick matches in a waterproof container.
  • Scissors and string/cord.

If you become stranded, do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.

If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.

Beltrami County Turkey Bowl Benefits Northwoods Coalition For Family Safety

Submitted Photo

Several Beltrami County Department heads and supervisors participated in a turkey bowl during an Employee Appreciation Celebration; each participant paid an entry fee and placed the name of a charity in a drawing. The slip pulled was submitted by Sheriff Phil Hodapp for the Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety. Pictured are county department heads Linda Tran, Kay Mack and Debbie Reierson; Brianna Davis from the NCFS accepting a $200 check from Hodapp; and department heads Duane Ebbighausen and Charlene Sturk.

Federal Funds Would Upgrade Sheriff’s Radios

Bemidji Pioneer

Funding for Beltrami County law enforcement radio upgrades is included in a Senate appropriations bill.

The fiscal year 2010 omnibus appropriations bill includes $1.4 million for northwest Minnesota projects, including $240,000 for Beltrami County’s mobile data and computer-aided dispatch system.

The funding is part of an estimated $1.22 million project over seven years to bring the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department dispatch services from analog to digital, making it compatible with the new 800 MHz statewide system.

Also needed is to replace sheriff’s deputy mobile radios with digital equipment, and provide each squad with a computer laptop which can connect to the Dispatch Center in Bemidji.

The funding was announced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn.

“When I was county attorney I would often meet with law enforcement officials across our state to discuss best practices and areas for improvement,” Klobuchar said. “It became very clear very quickly that they needed tools to help them communicate better between jurisdictions, especially in our rural areas.”

“Beltrami County is excited to be included as a recipient of appropriations to aid in our mobile data/computer-aided dispatch technology project,” Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said in Klobuchar’s statement. “Funding to aid interoperability between the various city, county and tribal law enforcement and emergency response workers is invaluable to providing public safety to our citizens.”

The bill also includes $100,000 for the Community Oriented Policing Services Law Enforcement and Meth Education Project for the White Earth Tribal Nation in Becker.

COPS has funded 118,000 officers in more than 12,000 communities nationwide since it was created in 1994, she said. Researchers have credited it as a significant factor in the national decline in violent crime that began in the 1990s.

Included in the legislation is $500,000 for improvements to Southeast Main Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets in Moorhead, including grade separations to increase safety.

“Infrastructure initiatives like the Main Avenue project in Moorhead are critical to creating jobs, fueling local businesses, and providing safe and reliable transportation for Minnesota families,” Klobuchar said.

Also included in the bill at Klobuchar’s request is $550,000 for the University of Minnesota-Crookston Center for Rural Entrepreneurial Studies. The center provides resources, education, and business development for rural entrepreneurs, helping to spur business and economic development.

The Senate is expected to pass the major omnibus spending bill this weekend.

DEA Head Honors BSU Roots

Michele L. Leonhart, acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and a 1978 graduate of Bemidji State University, talks with Ryan Taggart of Crosby Thursday night after her Alumni Homecoming Lecture. Taggart is a BSU senior majoring in criminal justice. Pioneer Photo/Laurie Swenson.

Bemidji Pioneer

The acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is proud to say she graduated from Bemidji State University.

Michele M. Leonhart, who graduated from BSU in 1978 with a degree in criminal justice, addressed about 50 people Thursday night during an Alumni Homecoming Lecture at Hagg-Sauer Hall. She is the recipient of the 2009 BSU Outstanding Alumni Award.

“I’m very humbled and honored to get an alumni award,” she said. “You don’t know what that means to me.”

Benjamin Tsang, a 1971 BSU graduate and director of the University of Ottawa’s Reproductive Biology Unit, also gave a lecture Thursday, focusing on ovarian cancer. The lectures were part of BSU’s annual homecoming activities.

Leonhart became the DEA’s first female special agent in charge in 1977 and in 2004 was named deputy administrator of the DEA, the highest-ranking DEA special agent in charge. She has been acting administrator since November 2007.

“I was drawn to Bemidji because Professor Don Bradel (head of the criminal justice department at BSU) was a former Chicago police officer,” Leonhart said. “I thought, ‘I want to be taught by a police officer.’”

Leonhart, who hasn’t been to Bemidji since she graduated, said she is happy to see that Tamarack Hall is still the tallest building in Bemidji.

“I have very fond memories of the criminal justice department. It has turned out some great students,” she said. “We made the right choice years ago. We picked Bemidji State University.”

Leonhart wanted to become a police officer since childhood, when she watched “The Untouchables” and “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and read Nancy Drew books while growing up in White Bear Lake, Minn.

At BSU, she attended “phenomenal classes,” she said.

“I’ve been waiting to tell him for 30 years the influence he had on me,” Leonhart said of Bradel.

“I want you to graduate from Bemidji and go get a job you’re passionate about,” she told students, adding that if they do that, they will love to get up in the morning and go to work.

Leonhart expected to become a police officer in Minneapolis or St. Paul, but upon advice from Bradel and others, she expanded her search to include all major police departments in the country.

She ended up in Baltimore, where she realized that virtually all the crime she fought against was related to drugs.

This led her to the DEA, where she has worked for almost 29 years.

“I’ve had a blast,” she said.

Leonhart said drug trafficking is a $322 billion industry.

The main link to the United States is through Mexico, she said, adding that drugs flow from Colombia to Mexico. “We can’t just look at the drug problem in Minnesota.”

Leonhart said undercover work, financial investigations, and electronic surveillance are ways the DEA fights drug trafficking. The DEA does 75 percent of all judicial wiretaps in the United States.

She spoke about seizures of drugs and money, including 9.5 tons of cocaine seized from a ship, and the world’s largest seizure of money, $207 million taken from a methamphetamine trafficker in Mexico.

Leonhart said the belief that the United States is losing the war on drugs is untrue.

There are 900,000 fewer teenagers using drugs today than in 2001, she said. “That’s the population of Detroit.”

Since 2001, marijuana usage among teens has dropped 25 percent, meth and xtasy use has been cut in half, steroid usage is down 33 percent and LSD use has dropped 53 percent, Leonhart said. “From 2001 to the present, all of us doing what we need to do is making a difference.”

Among adults, drug use reached its highest levels in the 1970s, but today drug use among workers is the lowest in 20 years, Leonhart said.

But as illegal drug use continues to drop, the DEA sees rising abuse of pharmaceutical drugs such as Vicodin.

“This is where we need to focus in the future,” Leonhart said.

Giving back

“The legacy of our alumni really tells the story of Bemidji State University,” BSU President Jon Quistgaard said. “It’s important for alumni to come back and share their experiences.”

BSU graduates can make meaningful accomplishments at all levels, Quistgaard said. “They need to see these success stories.”

“It’s really neat to have someone from DEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., come to Bemidji and talk about local and international problems,” Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said. “We are very proud of her. It’s neat to have someone from Minnesota, a graduate of BSU, be head of the DEA.”

Ryan Taggart, a BSU senior from Crosby majoring in criminal justice, visited with Leonhart after her lecture.

“This man has a future,” Leonhart said, noting that Taggart has served in the Army National Guard and served a tour in Iraq. “He’s doing everything.”

Leonhart said the DEA has always treated men and women the same. “It’s really an agency that didn’t get involved in gender politics. It just let us do the job.”

“You’re going to deal with the scum of the earth, and you’re going to have to do everything that a man does … and it’s going to be long hours, and it’s going to be rough, and you know, not every woman is looking for that kind of career,” Leonhart said. “I wanted the scum of the earth. I went to the right agency because they deal with the scum of the earth.”

Leonhart is married to Gene Johns, a narcotics detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office. They have two sons and split their time between California and Washington, D.C.

“It works,” she said. “We’re both workaholics and we both care very deeply about each other and our families.”

Her husband was in the audience Thursday night, as was her mother, Marilyn Leonhart of White Bear Lake.

Leonhart will meet with the Headwaters Safe Trails Task Force and the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force today. Her next stop is Denver, where she will address the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Kelliher Council Hears Complaints Regarding Law Enforcement Issues

Blackduck American

The Kelliher City Council met in the council chambers at city hall for its regular meeting Sept. 8.

Mayor Darin Latterell called the meeting to order with council members Laura Nelson, Victoria Rabe and Don Erickson present. Council Member Ramona Gehlert arrived later in the meeting.

Also present were staff members City Clerk Dianna Thurlow and Assistant City Clerk Peggy Vollhaber. Others present included Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp, Deputy Scott Wherley, Tina and Wade Rennemo, Lori and Ross Rennemo, Glen and Carey Grundmeier, Rick and Mary Thayer, Dorothy Schuh and her minor children and Wally Rennemo.

Complaints were addressed to the council, Sheriff Hodapp and Deputy Wherley regarding increasing levels of brazen reckless driving and loud exhausts on ATVs, motorcycles and motor vehicles.

It was the overall consensus of the guests in attendance and the council that there is a need for greater law enforcement presence in the Kelliher area to curb such activities, especially in consideration of a recent incident that escalated to violence against a citizen.

It was also emphasized that this was important in consideration of the past monies taken from the PILT fund to specifically provide for a deputy for the north half of the county.

Deputy Wherley responded by informing the audience that he and another deputy spend significant time in the area, although not all of it is directly in Kelliher, as they have to patrol the other communities in northern Beltrami County as well, so even though they may not always be visible, they are active in the area.

Sheriff Hodapp encouraged the public to contact the Sheriff’s Department directly with complaints and that individuals calling must be willing to sign a complaint ticket.

Several members of the audience asked what to do about threats or retaliation, citing the most recent incident and Sheriff Hodapp responded that the Sheriff’s Department should be contacted immediately and notified of the details of any threats or retaliation in response to making or signing a complaint.

Further questions were posed as to the use of warnings rather than citations, with Deputy Wherley’s response being that everyone needs to be treated the same and that warnings have been given in the past but that citations will be issued going forward if that was what the public desired.

The council felt that these incidents were obviously the result of a few individuals and that it would be unfortunate for the more minor transgressors to be cited, but that increased citations were needed to correct the undesirable behaviors.

Deputy Wherley explained his frustrations from the past, where he arrives in the area after a complaint and the activity has ceased and parties are unwilling to sign a complaint ticket.

Hodapp and Wherley reemphasized the need for citizens to contact the Sheriff’s Department directly and that citizens must be willing to sign complaint tickets, as law enforcement cannot file charges if they do not witness the activity first hand unless they have a signed complaint. This is especially significant in consideration of the fact that warnings have not appeared to suffice in the past.

Hodapp added that the area generally exhibits low call volumes and that a greater presence is only warranted by evidence of a greater need (higher complaint call volumes).

The open forum was closed with the council thanking Sheriff Hodapp, Deputy Wherley and the guests for attending. Hodapp, in turn, thanked the council and the community members present for bringing these matters to his attention and for giving him and Deputy Wherley the opportunity to discuss these matters with the public.

Beltrami County Board Briefed on Narcotics Enforcement

Bemidji Pioneer

Commander Gary Pederson described for Beltrami County Board members Tuesday the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force activities for the past year.

Pederson was accompanied during Tuesday’s County Board work session by Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp, Deputy Rob Billings and Administrative Assistant Shannon Trepanier. Pederson said he is satisfied with the results the Beltrami County Attorney’s office has achieved with prison sentences ranging from 33-133 months for criminals convicted of selling methamphetamine and other illegal drugs in and around Bemidji.

Besides the work in narcotics enforcement, Pederson cited other situations in which Task Force members have assisted law enforcement. He said they worked with the Gang Strike Force with wire tapping, helped Mahnomen law enforcement during the siege and shooting of Mahnomen County Deputy Chris Dewey, sandbagged during spring flooding, searched in June for a missing Blackduck child, who was later found safe, and assisted during the search for victims of the July Blackduck Lake boating accident.

The Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force is comprised of officers from the counties of Beltrami, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen and Roseau, the city of Bemidji and the Leech Lake and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe. It also works with the federal Safe Trails Task Force.

Pederson listed the following statistics for the past year:

  • 56 arrests for felonies and misdemeanors.
  • 36 search warrants executed for controlled substance cases.
  • 60 undercover drug buys.
  • 17 presentations by Task Force officers to civic organizations.
  • 56 assists to other law enforcement agencies outside the area.
  • Six federal indictments for drug offenses.
  • 115 grams of crack cocaine seized.
  • 19 ounces of powder cocaine seized.
  • 104 ounces of methamphetamine seized.
  • 871 ounces of marijuana seized.
  • 338 marijuana plants seized.
  • Seven firearms seized.

Pederson also addressed the greater scrutiny he expects the Task Force to face following the investigation of the Metro Gang Strike Force for failing to follow guidelines. He said he expects forfeit and seizure rules will become more stringent and the 20 state task forces to experience more oversight. He said the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force has zero accounting or forfeiture discrepancies.

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