Night of terror in BWCA still haunts family

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 18, 2007 - 8:50 PM

Five men and a teen from Ely face 79 charges over the gunplay and mayhem reported in August.

Emmerich Koller was looking forward to five days of rest and relaxation amid the lakes and scenic pines of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

But what he and his daughter, Marina, 26, and his son Andrew, 11, got instead was a night of terror.

"I thought, 'This is it. We are going to be killed,'" Emmerich Koller said Tuesday, recalling how he and his family hid in the brush, trembling, to avoid being seen by several men who had entered their Basswood Lake campground after dark Aug. 7 shouting profanities and threatening to kill and rape them following a verbal confrontation an hour earlier. "We were very scared."

After weeks of investigation, Lake County authorities filed 79 criminal charges against five men and a teenager from Ely, Minn., last week.

The six are accused of terrorizing and harassing dozens of campers during a night of beer-drinking and gun-shooting in the BWCA.

The charges include terroristic threats, aggravated harassment, criminal damage to property, reckless discharge of firearms, underage possession of firearms and underage alcohol consumption.

Barney J. Lakner, 37, Jay A. Olson, 19, Zachary R. Barton, 19, Travis J. Erzar, 20, and Casey J. Fenske, 19, will make their first court appearance Oct. 1. A complaint also was filed against a 16-year-old juvenile.

Lake County Attorney Russ Conrow declined to discuss the case Tuesday, saying "the complaint speaks for itself." He said federal investigators as well as authorities in Canada could file additional charges.

Terrifying ordeal

Koller, 64, a retired schoolteacher who lives in suburban Chicago, said Tuesday that he and his children are still traumatized by what happened six weeks ago. He said his daughter, also an Illinois schoolteacher, and his son have had recurring nightmares.

"I have difficulty sometimes in public places around other people," Marina Koller said Tuesday. "I also have trouble sometimes being home alone. I can't believe it. I can't believe this is what it's done to me."

According to the Kollers and information -- much of it culled from statements by the defendants -- outlined in the criminal complaint:

The trouble began before dusk on Aug. 7, when the five men and the teenager went to Basswood Lake in two motorboats to "have some fun," according to Barton.

Koller said he and his family heard shooting north of their campsite while they were eating supper about 7:30 p.m. on the first night of their BWCA trip.

"Here I am in this pristine wilderness and you don't expect to hear gunshots," he said. "And it was not just hunting rifles, but repeat rifles, semiautomatic."

About 10 p.m., three men in a motorboat stopped near the Kollers' campsite and began talking loudly and cursing. At the time, Koller didn't think they were involved in the earlier shooting.

He said he turned on his flashlight and asked them to be quiet, but was cursed, ridiculed for his accent -- Koller grew up in Hungary -- and told to shut up.

"They really cussed me out and cursed me out using every imaginable obscenity," Emmerich Koller said. "I was really taken aback. They seemed messed up, either drunk or on drugs, I don't know. They were scaring my family."

  • related content

  • PDF: Criminal complaint

    Tuesday September 18, 2007

    Editor's note: This criminal complaint contains offensive language.Click here to read the complaint.

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