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Death of Barnesville man in garage door accident 'sad loss for the community'

Barnesville (Minn.) Schools Superintendent Scott Loeslie said he'll miss his 4:30 a.m. conversations with Steve Peterson on stormy winter mornings.

Should they have school? Call it off? How crummy are the roads?

Peterson, 51, the part-owner of Barnesville Bus Co. who died in an apparent garage door accident Monday, was always "very personable" during their conversations, Loeslie said.

"Everyone's unique in their own way, but, I mean, he really did have a really good heart, and he wanted to do what was best for kids and this community," Loeslie said Wednesday.

Peterson was found dead at about 1:15 p.m. Monday by his brother, who had gone looking for Peterson after he missed a business appointment and couldn't be reached, Police Chief Dean Ernst said.

Ernst said it appeared Peterson was trying to duck under the overhead garage door as it was closing and somehow got caught under it.

"Everything is still pointing toward it just being kind of a freak accident-type thing," he said.

The garage door has a motion sensor safety system to stop it from closing on objects, but the sensors are positioned 4 to 5 feet off the ground, Ernst said.

"The reason for it is so that the buses trip them. If they were lower, like in a residential situation, a bus could be sitting in an open doorway and the beam would complete underneath it and (the door) would come down on an expensive bus," he said.

There was no ice on the garage floor, but melting snow caused the driveway just outside the door to become "a little bit mucky and wet," Ernst said.

"I don't know if that would have been enough to cause him to slip," he said.

Peterson's body was sent to Ramsey County to determine the cause of death. Preliminary autopsy results may be available this week, while full results will take a month or more, Ernst said.

As part-owner of the bus company, Peterson served many families in the Clay County city of about 2,300, Loeslie said.

"There probably wasn't any job that he hadn't done at some point in time, which would range from maintenance to washing the buses to designing routes to contacting parents to driving bus," he said.

The Peterson family, led by Steve Peterson's father, Delbert, who established the bus company in 1980 and died in 2007, have done "tremendous work" for the district and provided countless safe trips for students, Loeslie said.

"It's just a sad loss for the community and for the family," he said.

Steve Peterson worked full time running a plumbing and heating business and was well known in the community, said Ernst, who does construction on the side and had hired him for jobs in the past.

"I think it's kind of a shock for everybody," he said.

Peterson served on the Barnesville Volunteer Fire Department for more than 30 years, replacing his dad when he stepped down in 1980. As someone who lived and worked in town, he rarely missed a fire, said Fire Chief Michael Stetz, a department member for 17 years.

Stetz said Peterson put his mechanical skills to use as a firefighter, fixing leaks on fire trucks and stepping up in the shop when needed.

"He could fix anything. He was a master of all trades, it seemed like. There was nothing he wouldn't do," he said.

Peterson, a father of two adult children, also cooked the steaks at the fire department's summer picnics and was "a very well-liked person," Stetz said.

"We're going to miss him a lot," he said.