EVELETH, MINN. -- Ronald Hannuksela Jr. was facing prison time for dealing methamphetamine, had a history of stalking his ex-wife and was in his car in front of her house with a loaded pistol Tuesday when a State Patrol trooper shot and killed him.

But Natalie Hannuksela defended her slain ex-husband Wednesday, calling him a good father, saying their relationship had been better lately, and speculating that he was just going to her house in Eveleth for some things stored in her garage.

"I was aware he'd been in trouble lately, but I didn't know any details," she said. "We're concerned that excessive force might have been used, but we haven't been given any information."

Authorities investigating the shooting said Wednesday that trooper Bryan Carey, 35, shot Hannuksela through the car's driver's side windows after the 50-year-old fugitive brandished a .32-caliber revolver and refused to obey Carey's commands to get out of the car.

Lt. Edward Kippley of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office, which is heading the investigation, said the trooper recognized Hannuksela, a self-employed cement finisher who lived on 5 acres outside Mountain Iron, Minn., and was trying to arrest him on felony warrants from three northeastern Minnesota counties.

Authorities said Carey fired several shots, but they declined to say how many hit Hannuksela or whether Hannuksela fired any. They said the loaded revolver found in his car was turned over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for testing. Hannuksela died at the scene, and his body was taken to the St. Louis County medical examiner's office for an autopsy.

"An officer came to the place I work and told me there was an incident and that my ex-husband was dead," said Natalie Hannuksela, who has two teenage children with Hannuksela. Neither was home at the time of the shooting. "They're talking it hard," she said. "He's got a big family, and it's hard for everybody -- his mother, sisters and brothers."

Drugs, guns and threats

According to court records, Hannuksela didn't take it well when his wife divorced him in the mid-1990s. He got jail time for violating orders for protection she sought after he repeatedly followed her and threatened to kill her and himself if she dated anyone else. Once, her answering machine recorded a conversation in which she warned him that he would go to jail if he kept it up.

"And when I get outta jail, you'll be gone," he replied, according to a transcript in the court records.

"You're gonna kill me, hey?" she asked.

"...You'll no longer be around," he said.

She said Wednesday that with time, "things calmed down," that the couple got along when they exchanged the kids, and that he was a good father. She said she wasn't aware, however, of the extensive drug-dealing that was soon to send him to prison.

According to court records in Pine, Carlton, and St. Louis counties, Hannuksela was arrested in 2004 after meeting a police informant at the Grand Casino Hinckley hotel and paying $11,200 cash for methamphetamine and cocaine while police waited in the next room. He admitted to the drug agents in that case that he'd made several similar trips and had been selling the drugs on the Iron Range and also using them.

"Why are you dabbling in this?" an agent asked, according to a transcript.

"I don't know; 'cause I'm stupid," he responded.

A search of his house turned up more drugs as well as several guns, which he was barred from having by an earlier conviction for methamphetamine possession. He was to be sentenced this year in the three counties for multiple felonies, but he didn't appear for sentencing in any of the cases, and the counties issued the warrants that led to Tuesday's confrontation and shooting.

The State Patrol placed Carey on administrative leave while the investigation is pending, a process expected to take at least two weeks, authorities said. Commander Murray Herr-boldt of the patrol's northeastern Minnesota district said such a leave is standard procedure.

Carey has received 10 commendations during his career and is considered an expert at detecting signs of drug transportation, the agency reported.


Larry Oakes • 1-218-727-7344 • loakes@startribune.com