The Border Patrol incident

MPR’s Bob Kelleher visited a controversy that’s been brewing in the Northern woods for some time — the suggestion by some locals that Border Patrol agents along the Canadian border have been racing along like cowboys, putting the safety of residents in peril.

Much of it focuses on an October 2007 accident:

On a rain-slicked stretch of the Gunflint Trail, a Border Patrol vehicle struck and killed Kenneth Peterson, a prominent and well-liked local doctor. A tree had fallen across the pavement that night and Peterson was out of his car trying to clear it from the road.

The Border Patrol agent, Maranda Weber, was indicted on less-serious charges than some of the locals wanted and is trying to get the case moved to federal court, a move that some fear is the first step to having it quietly go away.

Emotions are pretty high in Grand Marais as evidenced by a writer who sent us an e-mail this afternoon:

I think the public ought to know: 1) There was a large tree down across the road that stopped traffic. 2) Two cars stopped, their occupants got out and left both their headlights and taillights on so that oncoming traffic FROM BOTH SIDES of the trail would be able to see them, and 3) Ken was using a chainsaw, so in addition to a fallen tree across the trail, two pair of headlights and taillights, and two people moving, there was the loud sound of a chainsaw. One wonders what anyone driving on the Gunflint Trail at night could be doing to miss all this; all of us who drive the Trail, even occasionally, know to slow down at night to avoid moose. It would also be hopeful for the public to know how fast the Border Patrol car was traveling when she hit Ken and then hit the tree.

I realize your article has a lot of detail, but feel some essential detail that explains why feelings are high among Grand Marais residents, and their friends, should be included.

Cook County Attorney Timothy Scannell said Weber refused to be interviewed or appear before the grand jury, according to the International Falls Daily Journal, and that the Border Patrol refused to provide basic information like how many hours she’d been working before the accident.

In an article this summer, the Star Tribune said the agent didn’t react before the accident. She didn’t swerve, she didn’t brake, it said.

  • I hate to say this, but I’m suprised this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.

    It’s a shame that someone died and it may be more tough on the community because of the deceased Dr.Peterson’s profile, but many people,locals included,drive recklessly on the Gunflint Trail.

  • The person that left the previous comment stated, “many people,locals included,drive recklessly on the Gunflint Trail.” Which certainly is true but unlike Border Patrol agent Weber, locals must answer in our local court for their illegal actions. What kind of justice is this?

  • H. Cocles

    I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have all the facts, but one thing does strike me as interesting based on my long experience as a police officer. The article states that two cars were parked, facing opposite directions with headlights on so that they would be seen.

    I have worked accidents with this same scenario and found that because the vehicles had their normal, driving lights on and due to the limited depth perception caused by darkness, it is impossible to see that the cars are stopped; that is the task of hazard lights. Additionally, active headlights will tend to obscure anything behind them, was there a car facing away from the tree? If so, it wouldn’t be visible until the driver passed the headlights.

    Finally, the law does provide for incidents that occur on duty to be regulated to the federal court system since the actions were conducted while on federal duty. This applies to military as well. It is not an attempt to cover up, rather an attempt to place the decision making process in the same jurisdiction of the governing body under which the person was operating at the time of the incident. To me, it sounds like a good option, especially if the incident happened in a small, tight knit community. The justice system strives to provide the most objective review possible of criminal complaints. A small community where the victim is a much loved icon would be very difficult to find a jury pool that could provide this same objectivity.

  • RobConcerned

    Don’t know if this got in, so I’m adding it again, in case it didn’t:

    Thanks to Cocles and other police officers, who I appreciate. The facts aren’t known and the Border Patrol Agent’s lawyer is doing everything possible to delay and not talk. One thing I do know is that both cars had their flashing/emergency lights on. The one closest to the oncoming driver had lights that flashed yellow and white. The road was PITCH DARK. EVERYONE who drives that road at night slows down when they see lights, even if they AREN’T flashing. So yes, we all do need to know lots more and the legal system is keeping us from it presently.

    I’ve lived in small towns, including Barrow, Alaska, where everyone knows everybody else. And they give fair trials there. There should be some standard for what size community can have a “fair” trial…the federal employee thing, “only” being handled by federal court is also not written in stone and was overturned in California recently, so lets just hope the legal delays don’t allow this agent to kill more people (?WHY? didn’t she slow and stop? THAT question needs to be answered before she gets behind the wheel of another car). Don’t know if Cocles or others will see this, but I had to say it.

  • RobConcerned

    Forgot to mention last time: Both cars’ headlights were shining ONTO the tree. No excuse for the agent not to see the tree. The question is: WHAT IMPAIRED HER? The answer needs to be known, and we need to prevent it from happening again. Legal delays to getting that information could hurt all of us. Sincerely.