Autopsy inconclusive on Fridley man who died

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS and EMILY JOHNS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2008 - 6:34 AM

Details remain unclear about what led state troopers to fire a Taser at the motorist involved in freeway crash.

Mark Backlund

Mark Backlund

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A Fridley man who died after being shot with a Taser did not comply with state troopers' requests after he was involved in a rush-hour freeway crash, state authorities said Thursday.

But details about what led to the shooting or what caused the death of Mark C. Backlund, 29, were not released.

The Anoka County medical examiner did an autopsy Thursday, but that office said the cause and manner of Backlund's death were inconclusive pending further study.

Backlund was driving on Interstate 694 to pick up his parents at the airport when he crashed at about 5 p.m. Tuesday in New Brighton. Paramedics said he was breathing when they arrived but he was later pronounced dead at a Fridley hospital.

No previous heart condition

Gordon Backlund said that the family was told his son's heart stopped and that the troopers on the scene gave him CPR. He said his son had no previous heart condition.

Backlund's parents say that news media attention over their son's accidental death has stunned them but that they're willing to talk about him so people know who he was.

"He was a happy child," said Gordon Backlund, who served in the state Legislature from 1985 to 1986. "He really had a unique ability to make people laugh and smile."

Two of the five troopers who were involved had just been hired in December and were riding with other troopers for field experience, according to Department of Public Safety officials.

Public Safety officials declined to release basic incident response data requested by the Star Tribune under the state's open records law.

State records show Backlund had several misdemeanor driving infractions when he was younger but none since 2000. Those include speeding, and underage drinking and driving. While at Mankato State University in 1998, he was convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Asked whether his son had car crashes before, Gordon Backlund replied: "He's had fender-benders; all kids do."

The five troopers who responded are on routine administrative leave while the case is investigated by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The agency will not provide details about what happened until the facts are sorted out, said bureau Superintendent Tim O'Malley. He said agents would review all evidence, including any videos recorded by cameras on trooper squad cars or Taser weapons.

Troopers Jon Froemke and Brian Helget were riding with veteran troopers during their field training. The patrol identified the veterans as Tim Koehler, a trooper since May 2000; Wade Erickson, a trooper since October 1999, and Troy McCormack, a trooper since June 1994.

The State Patrol currently has 93 Tasers, some with attached video cameras, in use throughout the state. The Department of Public Safety said the patrol conducted a 12-month pilot project until August 2007 before adding Tasers to trooper equipment used statewide. During the pilot project, Tasers were displayed 27 times and fired 33 times. No known health-related incidents occurred during the test period, according to an agency news release.

The release said before receiving a Taser, troopers must complete a two-day training course. They must also take a one-day recertification course annually. Trooper training standards exceed the manufacturer's recommendations.

About 480 police agencies in Minnesota use Tasers, including those in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud. A few agencies, including the State Patrol, have video cameras attached that activate when the Taser is fired. Generally, a Taser shoots two barbed darts on a wire up to 35 feet long. The darts deliver enough voltage to disable a person for about five seconds.

Minneapolis has 235 Tasers. Some have cameras and all have a data storage device that records when the weapon is used, said police spokesman Jesse Garcia. He said police fired Tasers 232 times in 2006, with no serious effects. He said only about a dozen of those shocked suffered minor injuries, often from falling down. Garcia said officer injuries are down 75 percent since Tasers were introduced in 2001.

Garcia called Tasers "an invaluable, necessary tool that helps bring a suspect under control with less injury to both officers and suspects."

'He was a caretaker'

Backlund grew up in Fridley, and graduated from Fridley High School in 1996. The youngest of two children, he was an avid fisherman and golfer.

"He was a caretaker," said his sister, Melanie Backlund Moe, 32. "He never wanted to see anyone else hurting."

His parents chose not to discuss the circumstances around his death, except to say they were shocked. They haven't considered whether to take legal action, they said.

"At this point, it's not an issue," Gordon Backlund said. "We're in the process of grieving. I want to celebrate my son's life."

Visitation for Mark Backlund will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at Miller Funeral Home, 6210 Hwy. 65 NE, Fridley. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Christ the King Lutheran Church, 1900 7th St. NW, New Brighton, preceded by another hour of visitation.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658 or jadams@startribune.com. Emily Johns • 952-882-9056 or ejohns@startribune.com.

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