By Richard Meryhew, Staff Writer
Bertha Stone was on her way to Virginia, Minn., to pick up groceries Tuesday afternoon when a half-dozen police cars raced by in the opposite direction toward the Iron Range town of Eveleth.
"Cars were coming down the highway like crazy," the 82-year-old Eveleth woman said Tuesday night. "Lights were flashing. Sirens were going. All I could think of was `Oh my, there must be a bad car accident.'-"
As it turned out, it was more dramatic than that.
Minutes after Stone left her house about a block off Eveleth's main street, a State Patrol trooper shot and killed a 50-year-old man from nearby Mountain Iron after a confrontation during a traffic stop a few doors down from Stone's house.
St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said Tuesday evening that the victim, who had a gun, was wanted on several felony warrants in three Minnesota counties. He declined to identify the man pending notification of relatives.
"The guys and gals working on the Range knew him real well," Litman said, adding that local authorities and the State Patrol "were actively looking for this guy."
He said the shooting occurred about 1:10 p.m. on the 700 block of Douglas Avenue after the State Patrol trooper stopped the car and loudly commanded that the suspect get out.
Litman said the trooper cut his hands on broken glass while trying to remove the suspect from the car.
What happened next was still unclear late Tuesday, Litman said, but at some point, the trooper saw that the suspect had access to a handgun. Within seconds, a confrontation ensued.
"He had a gun. We know there was a handgun in the vehicle," Litman said.
The sheriff said the victim was shot inside the car and that he died at the scene. The sheriff did not say how many shots were fired.
Several residents of the neighborhood, located near the Eveleth Hippodrome, the city's hockey arena, said they heard several shots.
Authorities are expected to provide more detail today at an 11 a.m. news conference at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Virginia.
"We'll explain what went on and what happened and why," said Lt. Ed Kippley of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office, which is heading the investigation with help from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Eveleth police.
The name of the trooper, who is based in Virginia and who has been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is being investigated, was not released by authorities Tuesday.
`We heard a bang'
By early Tuesday night, the shooting in the city of 3,900 was the talk of the Iron Range.
Gary Skalko, the mayor of Mountain Iron, a city of 3,000 residents about 10 miles from Eveleth, said he heard about the incident earlier in the day from his son, Justin Skalko, who works a sales job in Eveleth not far from the shooting scene.
"I was just sitting up in my office and we heard a bang," Justin Skalko said. "I thought someone dropped a board. We didn't really think anything of it until we saw cops everywhere. And it was like `holy moley.'-"
Stone, who has lived in Eveleth all her life, said she returned home from grocery shopping about 2 p.m. to find police had sealed off the block with yellow tape.
Squad cars were everywhere, forcing Stone to take a back route to her garage.
Once she unloaded her groceries, she went back outside and began talking with people who had gathered in her yard.
"I had no idea of what happened," she said. "It was just a very quiet day and I went out to buy groceries and all this hipparoo happened."
Stone said she heard that the man who was stopped by the trooper had a "history of offenses." Several residents said the traffic stop was made after a high-speed chase into town. And Gary Skalko said he heard that as many as five shots were fired.
`Cop cars everywhere'
By Tuesday night, the block was still aglow with lights from TV trucks and cameras. Investigators from several agencies were still on the scene, looking for more evidence.
"There's yellow plastic around the vehicles and cop cars everywhere," said Tim Flanningan, who drives a truck at United Taconite in Eveleth and whose house is closest to the spot where the shooting occurred. "I had to walk home because they wouldn't let me drive near my house."
For Stone, "the old veteran in this neighborhood," it was all quite a sight.
"I've led a very great life, but I've never been exposed to anything like this," she said. "I'm kind of happy that I missed it all."
News researcher Linda Scheimann contributed to this report. Richard Meryhew - 612-673-4425
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Minn. trooper fatally shoots man after traffic stop