Charges filed after crash that killed two firefighters

Nine firefighters traveling in a second crew carrier were stopped 30 miles down the highway, restrained with zip ties, and questioned individually.

Michael Allen Johnson
Michael Allen Johnson. Anoka County jail photo.

(Originally published at 7:22 a.m. MDT August 29. Updated at 2:52 p.m August 30, 2016)

The driver of the crew carrier that crashed August 27 near Blaine, Minnesota killing two firefighters has been charged with a crime. Michael Allen Johnson, 28, was arrested the day of the accident and booked into Anoka County jail. He was charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.

The two deceased firefighters were identified Sunday by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as James F. Shelifoe, Jr., 23, of Baraga Michigan, and Alan J. Swartz, 25, of Baraga, Michigan.

Monday evening WLUC reported more information about Mr. Johnson based on a copy of the criminal complaint. Here are some of the key points according to their article and an AP report:

  • The crash occurred at approximately 3 p.m. CST on Saturday, August 27.
  • Mr. Johnson said he woke up on Friday, August 26th, at approximately 11:00 a.m. and had not slept since then at the time of the crash, aside from a forty-five minute nap during the early morning hours of August 27th.
  • He said he had used marijuana hours before the crash.
  • He admitted to having used cocaine two days earlier. (Blood tests are pending.)
  • Officers stated that Mr. Johnson appeared impaired and was acting combative at the scene of the accident.
  • He told investigators he fell asleep while driving and woke up to a passenger yelling. He veered off the right side of the road, overcorrected to the left, and struck the cable barrier between the southbound and northbound lanes of the freeway.

In the video above the reporter says:

Two hours after the crash a second Beartown truck carrying nine more firefighters was stopped in Bloomington. Their hands restrained behind their backs they sat along a curb, individually questioned, and left on their way.

Bloomington is about 30 miles from Blaine, Minnesota where the crash occurred.

crash scene firefighters
The crash scene. From the WCCO video.

ABC News reported that a witness saw the truck drive past him at about 80 to 90 mph in a 70 mph zone shortly before the crash, according to the complaint.

The passenger compartment on the crew carrier separated from the truck’s chassis when the vehicle rolled.

Seven firefighters in the crew carrier were injured, including Mr. Johnson. All are expected to recover. The Minnesota State Patrol said in a statement:

The truck was southbound on I-35W near 95th Avenue. The truck left the roadway for an unknown reason, struck the median cable barriers, and rolled. A total of nine people were in the vehicle.

There were 11 other firefighters in two other vehicles traveling in the convoy but the truck that crashed had become separated from the other two. All are part of the Beartown Fire Crew from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the upper Peninsula of Michigan. The firefighters were en route to the Box Canyon Fire in Utah.

Two wildland firefighters killed in Minnesota vehicle accident

(Originally published at 10:17 p.m. MDT August 27, 2017. Updated at 11:05 p.m. MDT August 28, 2016)

(UPDATE: the driver of the firefighters’ truck has been charged with a crime.)

Two firefighters with a Type 2 hand crew were killed in a traffic accident Saturday August 27 near Blaine, Minnesota. The Minnesota Incident Command System verified that the firefighters were part of the Beartown Fire Crew from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the upper Peninsula of Michigan that was en route to the Box Canyon Fire in Utah.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community confirmed the tragic accident:

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community learned this evening that our Beartown Firefighting crew was involved in a tragic traffic accident. Two of our fire fighters were killed and several others were severely injured. Our hearts are broken and our prayers are with the family members and those injured.

The seven other firefighters in the crew carrier that were injured in the crash are expected to recover.

The two deceased firefighters were identified Sunday by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as James F. Shelifoe, Jr., 23, of Baraga Michigan, and Alan J. Swartz, 25, of Baraga, Michigan.

The Minnesota State Patrol said in a statement:

The truck was southbound on I-35W near 95th Avenue. The truck left the roadway for an unknown reason, struck the median cable barriers, and rolled. A total of nine people were in the vehicle.

There were 11 other firefighters en route to the same fire. They were traveling in a convoy but had become separated.

According to Minnesota Department of Transportation, that section of the Interstate was closed in both directions for about four hours after the accident.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs manages the Beartown Firefighters Type 2 hand crew. It is based out of Baraga, Michigan and is available for dispatch locally as well as nation-wide.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, coworkers, and friends of the injured and deceased firefighters.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Photos of ribbons being collected to honor fallen firefighter

Justin Beebe
Justin Beebe. USFS photo.

Photos are being collected of purple ribbons honoring Justin Beebe, the wildland firefighter killed by a falling tree August 13 while fighting the Strawberry Fire in eastern Nevada. The photos will be collected and then posted together on social media as a way to show Justin’s family respect, and honor his life.

If you would like to participate, take a photo of a purple ribbon on anything — a tree, utility pole, sign, fire truck — and Tweet it with the hashtag #rememberjustinbeebe. If there’s a clue in the photo about where in the world the photo was taken, that would be a bonus.

Below are examples.

remember justin beebe

justin bebee

 

I just ordered 100 yards of purple ribbon and should have it by mid-afternoon on Friday. If anyone in the Hot Springs, SD area wants some, send me a message.

The memorial service honoring Justin will be held at 11:00 a.m., Saturday, August 20 at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, 700 Cregg Lane, Missoula (map). The public is invited to the memorial to pay their respects.

Justin is from Bellows Falls, Vermont and is a member of the Lolo Hotshots.

Additional information may be found at justinbeebememorial.blogspot.com. Condolences may be sent to justinbeebememorial@gmail.com.

On August 17 Justin was flown in a U.S. Forest Service aircraft from Las Vegas to Missoula accompanied by fellow Hotshot crewmembers and a USFS Honor Guard. From the Missoula airport he was escorted to a funeral home in Missoula where he will rest until the Memorial Service on Saturday.

The Memorial service in Vermont will be on Saturday, August 27 at 1 p.m. at the Bellows Falls Union High School auditorium. The address is 406 Union High School Road, Westminster, VT 05158 (map).

Firefighter killed near Baker, Nevada

Justin Beebe was a member of the Lolo Hotshots

Justin Beebe
Justin Beebe. USFS photo.

A wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service was killed Saturday August 13 while working on the Strawberry Fire near Baker, Nevada.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service confirmed that Justin Beebe, a firefighter with the Lolo Hotshots based in Missoula, Montana, succumbed to injuries suffered when he was struck by a tree. The line of duty death of the Bellows Falls, Vermont firefighter will be investigated by the Forest Service.

“This loss of life is tragic and heartbreaking,” said Park Superintendent, Steve Mietz “Please keep the family and Forest Service employees in your thoughts and prayers during this time.”

The Strawberry Fire is being managed jointly by Great Basin Incident Management Team 7, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. It is burning mostly in Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada 10 miles west of the Utah/Nevada state line. Since starting from lightning on August 8 it has burned 4,600 acres, but satellites have not detected much heat on the fire since Friday, August 12.

map strawberry fire
The yellow dots represent the location of the Strawberry Fire August 14, 2016.
Strawberry Fire trees
Strawberry Fire. Photo by Steve Mietz.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Beebe’s family, friends, and coworkers.

Wildfires rage in Portugal and Spain; one firefighter killed

From the Daily Mail at 8:29 p.m. MDT August 8, 2016:

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“More than 4,400 firefighters battled hundreds of forest blazes in Portugal as a man admitted causing a huge Spanish wildfire by lighting soiled toilet paper.

The National Civil Protection Authority in Portugal said by late afternoon almost 1,500 vehicles and 32 water-dumping planes were deployed at 702 wildfires, some of which have been burning for days.

Wildfires in Portugal
NASA satellite image showing in red the location of wildfires and smoke produced by the blazes in Portugal at 12:55 UTC August 9, 2016. The image shows most of Portugal and the west coast of Spain.

Meanwhile, after raging for six days, a Spanish wildfire which started when a German lit his spoiled toilet paper was finally brought under control as 500 residents were evacuated and a forest worker was killed.

In Spain, authorities said firefighters had managed to bring a six-day-old forest fire on the Atlantic island of La Palma under control and were allowing evacuated residents to return to their homes.

The regional government for the Canary Islands archipelago said the measure affected 500 residents evacuated a day earlier from the town of Villa de Mazo.

The fire claimed the life of one forest worker and has destroyed more than 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of forest on the volcanic island off the northwest coast of Africa.”

Firefighter killed in dozer accident on Soberanes fire

(Updated 5:46 a.m. MDT, July 28, 2016)

The operator of a bulldozer was killed while working on the Soberanes fire, one of two major wildfires burning in California and one that has already destroyed 20 homes.

The operator was killed when the bulldozer rolled over, and another operator was injured in a similar incident, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Other reports say the dozer operator died of injuries on Tuesday night.

The bulldozer operator was working on a call-when-needed basis overnight when the fatal accident occurred, according to information posted on CAL FIRE’s website. The dozer was one of 60 assigned to the fire in Monterey County.

Officials have not yet released the name of the operator who was killed. California’s other major blaze, the Sand fire, killed a man this week outside of Los Angeles.

Check back with wildfiretoday.com for more on this story.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris and Daniel.