UPDATE: Names of deceased in fatal car accident released

UPDATE: Names of deceased in fatal car accident released

UPDATE — 6:30 a.m. Monday, August 29, 2016 EDT

KBIC has confirmed the identities of the deceased.

Alan Swartz, 25, and James Shelifoe, 23, both of Baraga, died in the traffic crash in Minnesota Saturday afternoon.


UPDATE 9:15 a.m. Sunday, August 28, 2016 EDT

Two members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s Beartown Firefighting squad were killed Saturday in a traffic crash in Minnesota.

Minnesota State Patrol investigators say the transport vehicle carrying nine passengers struck the median cable barriers “for an unknown reason” and rolled over on I-35W in Blaine, a northern Minneapolis suburb.

The MSP report identifies the driver as 28-year-old Michael Johnson of Baraga. Johnson was taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. Of the passengers, 26-year-old Dave Varline of Baraga was taken to Unity Hospital in Findlay.

26-year-old Tyler Tolonen of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. 29-year-old Shashaywin Shelifoe was taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. 33-year-old Ross Jaukkuri of Baraga was taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. 34-year-old Gavin Loonsfoot of Baraga was taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. Joseph Jossens was apparently not hospitalized.

The firefighters were on their way to an assignment at the Box Canyon wildfire in Utah. The crash occurred around 3:00 pm. Both sides of the highway were closed for more than two hours during the investigation and cleanup.

The Beartown Firefighters is a Type Two Wildland Firefighting Hand Crew. It is jointly run by the KBIC and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Most of the firefighters are KBIC Tribal members from Baraga County, although some come from other tribes, or are non-natives.

Names of the dead have not been released. A statement posted by the KBIC indicated that those who were injured are expected to recover.

Here’s the statement from the KBIC’s Facebook page:

“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.

We are continuing to gather information on the condition of each and every fire fighter who was sent to the Box Canyon fire. It has been difficult due to privacy laws. If any family members have questions, please contact the Tribal Police Department 353-6626.

There will also be staff at the Tribal Center to process Emergency Medical Travel beginning tonight. Family needing assistance should contact Larry Denomie at 201-0631.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”

(Information compiled Courtesy of the Keweenaw Report/KSTP)


BLAINE, MINN. — According to a report from ABC affiliate KSTP, a vehicle from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community was involved in a fatal accident Saturday near Blaine, Minnesota.

The accident happened at 3:30 p.m. on Interstate 35W. Two of the eight people inside the vehicle with the words ‘Beartown Fire Department’ died in the accident.

The fire department is part of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. The accident closed the highway for several hours.

We will provide more information as it becomes available.