Accident left two Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members dead. Photo from Facebook
Published August 28, 2016
BLAINE, MINNESOTA— The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is mourning the loss of two of its members and Beartown Firefighting squad who died in a van accident in Blaine, Minnesota on Saturday afternoon, August 27, 2016.
The two who have walked are Alan Schwartz, 25, and James Shelifoe, 23, both of Baraga, Michigan. Seven others in the van were taken to the hospital and are expected to recover, according to a press release issued Sunday by the Tribe.
The Tribe released this statement last night:
“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.”
The nine passengers were all members of the Beartown Firefighting crew on their way from Michigan’s Upper Penisula to the Box Canyon wildfire in Utah. Another van carrying 11 Beartown firefighters, also enroute to Utah, was not part of the accident and did not witness it.
According to the Minnesota State Patrol, witnesses said the van hit median cable barriers “for an unknown reason” and rolled over on I-35W in Blaine, a northern Minneapolis suburb.
The Minnesota State Patrol 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 accident remains under investigation by the Minnesota State Patrol.
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is a federally recognized tribe based in Baraga, Michigan in the state’s upper penisula. The Beartown Firefighting crew is managed by the Tribe in cooperation witht the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The crew can be dispatech locally, as well as nationally, according to the Tribe’s website.