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Two arrested and charged in snowmobile chase

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Two arrested and charged in snowmobile chase
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

Two men who led Department of Natural Resources conservation officers on a high speed snowmobile chase were formally charged in State District Court in Two Harbors last Wednesday. One of the men is the ringleader of a drunken, gun-shooting, fireworks-lighting terroristic rampage on Basswood Lake in 2007. This time he and his companion tore through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.


Barney Lakner, 44, of Ely has been charged with a felony and six misdemeanors after his arrest on Jan. 11 while snowmobiling in the BWCAW, where snowmobiles are banned by federal law.

Lakner was arrested along with Edward Zupancich, 26, of Babbitt.

Both face felony charges for fleeing an officer on a motor vehicle, as well as misdemeanor charges for possessing cans and a mechanical device in the wilderness, as well as littering, failure to display registration and operating a snowmobile in a careless manner. Zupancich was released on $10,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court again Feb. 4. Lakner was released on $20,000 bail and is scheduled to appear again on Feb. 3.

According to the criminal complaint, three Minnesota state conservation officers were involved in the chase, ironically also on Basswood Lake along the Ontario border where the 2007 incident occurred.

At two points during the pursuit, Lakner’s snowmobile apparently rammed the officers’ snowmobiles, officers said in the complaint.

The officers said they were traveling up to 80 mph during the pursuit. The officers found full beer cans on the snowmobiles and in backpacks, and later found empty beer cans along the suspects’ route.

“Officer (Marty) Stage eventually got close enough to try to grab (Lakner’s) backpack in an effort to get him to stop. The defendant’s (Lakner’s) snowmobile again made contact with Officer Stage’s snowmobile,” the criminal complaint alleges.

At one point officer Anthony Bermel launched himself from his moving snowmobile, knocking Zupancich to the ground, where the officer pinned him down.

The criminal complaint said Lakner had put duct tape over his snowmobile registration so it could not be identified from a distance. Zupancich’s snowmobile did not have registration stickers.

It’s at least the third time Lakner has been arrested for major snowmobiling violations. He was arrested with four other men by U.S. Forest Service officers on Crooked Lake in 2004. He also was charged with fleeing officers on a snowmobile in St. Louis County in 2000.

Lakner was the leader of a group of six males — five adults and one juvenile — who motor-boated illegally into Basswood Lake in the BWCAW on Aug. 7, 2007, where they drank beer, fired semi-automatic firearms randomly into the night, terrorized campers and fired large, professional-size fireworks, as well as damaging a federal water level gauging station. They also threatened to rape and torture campers on the lake, some of whom said later that they feared for their lives.

Marina Koller of suburban Chicago said she had to seek counseling after that night when the three campers in her group ran from their tent in the dark and hid deep in the woods praying the men would not find them. The men yelled obscenities, fired their guns and even entered their campsite and rummaged through their tent, Koller noted in 2008 court testimony in Two Harbors.

“They talked about killing my father and sodomizing him and my brother,” Koller said at the time.

“I thought I was going to die out there. I’m still haunted by it,” Koller said. “I want the nightmares to go away.”

In July, 2008, Lakner avoided a trial on 22 felony and misdemeanor counts related to the terroristic incident by pleading guilty to five charges, including three felonies. He was sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of three years in a state prison.

Lakner was discharged from state prison on Aug. 7, 2011, Lisa Hanson, assistant Lake County Attorney, told the News Tribune.

The case drew national attention as an example of the anti-government foment still harbored by some Ely-area residents a generation after federal wilderness regulations were tightened in 1978. Many Ely-area residents condemned the 2007 incident and said they hoped the guilty pleas and sentences given to all six participants would be the end to such illegal behavior.