Friday, October 19, 2007

Elephant Butte ranger sentenced to probation

Park ranger Clyde Woods has been sentenced to 5 years probation and 1 year house arrest for fatally shooting an unarmed belligerent camper who refused to pay his camping fee. Details about the shooting can be found in the post: The Incident at Elephant Butte Lake.

New Mexico park ranger gets five years probation in shooting death (Albuquerque Tribune)

A former New Mexico State Parks ranger has been sentenced to five years' probation and one year of house arrest in the fatal shooting of a man in a dispute over a campsite fee at Elephant Butte State Park.

State District Judge Kevin Sweazea on Wednesday ordered Clyde Woods to wear an electronic ankle monitoring bracelet for a year before serving probation.

Woods pleaded guilty in March to voluntary manslaughter in the August 2005 death of Bruce Teschner, 58. Teschner - who according to testimony was drunk and had a history of mental illness - refused to pay a $14-a-night camping fee and refused to leave the park.

Woods said he acted in self-defense. He said Teschner turned and made a motion as if he were pulling a weapon. Witnesses said Teschner was running away when he was shot.

State Police said at the time that the camper resisted arrest and was moving away from Woods, apparently keeping his hands in his pockets, when the fatal shots were fired.

Teschner was shot twice in the back of the neck, authorities said.

Special Prosecutor Scot Key had sought the maximum punishment for Woods, seven years behind bars. But defense attorney Gary Mitchell asked Sweazea to give Woods probation.

Before the sentencing, clinical psychologist Eric Westfried testified for the defense that Woods poses no threat to the community. He also told the court that a more thorough psychological evaluation before Woods was admitted to the police academy might have found him an unsuitable candidate for law enforcement.

The victim's brother, Charles Teschner, testified that arthritis forced his brother to give up his jewelry-making business, and he had been given a diagnosis of depression and put on medication. He said his brother was "obviously self-medicating with alcohol" in the last months of his life.

He told the judge that he believed Woods had to know that his brother was unarmed.

Several community members told the judge that Woods was a dedicated father, an avid community volunteer and an asset to his hometown.

Woods apologized to Teschner's family for taking the man's life but said he did the best he could with what he had the evening he was called to Teschner's campsite.

"I'm sorry for what happened," Woods said as he sobbed and looked briefly at Teschner's family.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The worst canoe trip since Deliverance

In August Emmerich Koller and his two children, Marina (age 26) and Andrew (age 11) went on a 5 day canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Not even a boy sitting on his front porch playing Dueling Banjos could have alerted them to what would happen on this trip.

Night of terror in BWCA still haunts family (
The trouble began before dusk on Aug. 7, when the five men and the teenager went to Basswood Lake in two motorboats to "have some fun," according to Barton.

Koller said he and his family heard shooting north of their campsite while they were eating supper about 7:30 p.m. on the first night of their BWCA trip.

"Here I am in this pristine wilderness and you don't expect to hear gunshots," he said. "And it was not just hunting rifles, but repeat rifles, semiautomatic."

About 10 p.m., three men in a motorboat stopped near the Kollers' campsite and began talking loudly and cursing. At the time, Koller didn't think they were involved in the earlier shooting.

He said he turned on his flashlight and asked them to be quiet, but was cursed, ridiculed for his accent -- Koller grew up in Hungary -- and told to shut up.

"They really cussed me out and cursed me out using every imaginable obscenity," Emmerich Koller said. "I was really taken aback. They seemed messed up, either drunk or on drugs, I don't know. They were scaring my family."

In the complaint, Olson told investigators that the men "kind of pushed it, yeah. We should have stopped."

Koller said Tuesday that when the men left, they lifted their motor out of the water and "revved it up." They shot a flare that exploded in the sky before leaving to meet up with their friends in a nearby bay.

While there, the five men and teenager sat in their boats, drank beer and fired off more rounds from several weapons.

Koller said that about 11 p.m. his son woke him to tell him a boat was approaching.

"As they got closer, I got an inkling: 'We've got to get out of here,'" Emmerich Koller said.

Koller and his children fled to the woods, pushing deep into the brush where they "just hunkered down and listened to their ranting and raving."

For the next 45 minutes, the men poked around the campsite, commenting in vulgar terms about the family's sleeping bags and food.

At one point, Marina Koller told authorities, one of the men said, "Maybe if you make us s'mores for an hour, we won't ... kill you!"[The men said] they were going to kill me and rape us all, in very graphic terms," Emmerich Koller said. "We were very scared. My daughter was just trembling behind me, and we were just holding onto each other."

A part-time bartender, Marina Koller said she'd never heard such foul language, even in a bar.

About 15 minutes after the men left, Emmerich Koller called 911 and told a Lake County dispatcher what was happening. At the same time, the five men and teenager headed to a nearby beach to swim, where they confronted two adults, their five children and two friends of the children.

Two of the men skinny-dipped. One of the adults told investigators that the men used "a lot of f-words" and threatened a sexual assault.

By then, however, several more campers had called authorities to report men racing around "shooting guns,"terrorizing people" and setting fire to the lake with gasoline.
Men charged in BWCA terrorizing and shooting mayhem (Timberjay Newspapers Online)
Cell phone calls from threatened campers alerted law enforcement that the men were shouting threats and obscenities while shooting firearms and fireworks from two motorized boats. Lake County Sheriff’s deputies and federal agents were able track the progress of the men from the calls and intercept their boats as they returned to the Fall Lake landing around midnight.

Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Hoberg contacted U.S. Forest Service Agent Chip Elkins for assistance in apprehending the suspects.

The boat with a 16-year-old male, Olson and Lakner arrived at the landing. Lakner was wearing a knit hat with fake dreadlocks attached to it. Hoberg had known Lakner for over 20 years, but did not recognize him at first.

During the pat-search, Hoberg noticed Lakner was wearing a .45 caliber semi-automatic side arm and had another bullet clip on his belt.

As the officers continued arrest procedures, they heard the second boat approaching and instructed the first three suspects to remain silent.

However, Lakner continually talked louder, according to the complaint, apparently trying to alert the second boat of their situation. Ely Police Officer Chad Hood began to escort Lakner to a squad car about 50 yards away, but Lakner persisted shouting to the point that Hood had to wrestle him to the ground and cover his mouth.

During an audio and videotape interview after his arrest, Fenske admitted they did not go on the excursion to fish. He said he and his boat partners almost turned back at Jackfish Bay because it was dark and they couldn’t find the others until they saw their fireworks.

Barton stated on tape that the whole group just wanted to have some fun and “stir things up a little bit.” He said they laughed about the comments they made to campers and “thought it was cute and funny.”

Of the weapons found, one was a Russian or Romanian made AK-47 assault rifle. However it was discovered to be semiautomatic, rather than fully automatic.

Through complainant statements made to Agent Elkins, he realized the boat containing Lakner, Olson and the juvenile traveled into Canada. Elkins notified Ontario officials who asked him to enter Canadian territory and retrieve the evidence.

Boaters and campers provided officers with a beer bottle and 13 spent shell casings. A variety of other evidence surfaced later and included more beer bottles, spent casings, cardboard tubes and paper remains from spent fireworks.

A criminal investigation and charges from Canada are uncertain at this time.

In all, Deputy Hoberg and Agent Elkins talked to at least 80 people regarding the case.

If convicted, penalties for each count of aiding and abetting terroristic threats, harassment and firearms possession is five years incarceration, or a $10,000 fine, or both. Theft penalties include one year incarceration, a $3,000 fine, or both. Reckless discharge of a firearm, transporting an uncased firearm, and possession and use of fireworks all have penalties of 90 days incarceration, a $1,000 fine, or both.
I first heard about this story in the blog Lagniappe's Lair. The author of this blog states that when he goes camping he always brings a .357 Magnum revolver or an AR-15A1 assault rifle. Despite how horrible the Boundary Waters story is, I would not recommend carrying firearms with you while you are camping, unless you are Dirty Harry (he favored the .357 Magnum) or Rambo (who favored the AR-15A1, aka the M16).