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Holiday domestic turmoil: 'Not all families get along'

As the economy continues its sluggish pace and unemployment stays in the double digits, dissatisfaction with the dismal state of affairs is having an impact at home.

"From Thanksgiving through the New Year, it's the worst time of the year," said Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers.

"And they're dangerous," Eilers added. "That Lake City officer was shot at 8 o'clock in the damned morning. You just never know."

Monday morning, Lake City police officer Shawn Schneider, 32, a nine-year veteran, was critically wounded by gunfire responding to a domestic argument in that town. The shooter then committed suicide.

"It's the holidays," Eilers said. "They're getting a little bit nastier. You're starting to see more and more weapons involved in this kind of stuff and it's cranking up a notch at the holidays."

Domestic disturbances continue their steady pace in Hubbard County, with police officers and deputies continually called out to mediate family arguments and separate the parties

Authorities say in part, it's because more couples are home together getting on each other's nerves.

Drugs and alcohol only compound the tinderbox.

"They know when they go on a domestic, you're walking into a place where you have no idea about (what's going on) and there's every type of weapon that you can think of in there from a fry pan to a shotgun," Eilers said. "That's one of the most dangerous things that happens and that's where most officers get shot."

In the last month, four cases have reached an explosive stage locally.

n On Nov. 22, Park Rapids officers responded to a 911 hang-up call when a woman tried to get help.

Kirk Douglas Lichty, 53, of Park Rapids, now faces a charge of Interference with a 911 Call, for allegedly grabbing the phone from the victim's hand and breaking it, then hanging up a second phone that was ringing. The charge carries a maximum of 1 year and/or a $3,000 fine upon conviction.

n The following day deputies were called to a rural residence to find a distraught woman with red marks on her neck and hairline.

The woman told a deputy her aggressor "had a drinking problem" and she went twice to a bar to bring him home.

When she got the man home, he attacked her, according to the criminal complaint. He "then pushed her, smacked her in the face, and grabbed her around the neck with both hands, choking her," the complaint states.

The woman managed to get away and cowered until her parents arrived. Two children were present during the incident.

Shane Ray Vareberg, 26, Menahga, apparently fled on foot. He faces two charges of Domestic Assault, one by strangulation and the other to intentionally inflict bodily harm. The strangulation charge carries a maximum penalty of three years and/or a $5,000 fine. The bodily harm charge is punishable by a maximum of 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine upon conviction.

n On Dec. 13, a police officer and county sergeant responded to a call from a woman crying and in pain.

She told officers she had struggled with a man who tried to choke her, even putting a hole in a bedroom wall where her head was slammed into it, the complaint states. The man fled on foot.

He was arrested at the home the following night.

Christopher George Asplund, 37, now faces three charges, including Violation of an Order for Protection and Felony Domestic Assault, which are each punishable by a maximum of five years and/or a $10,000 fine. The complaint states Asplund has previously been convicted of domestic violence related offences twice in 2005, once in 2006 and once in 2007.

He's also charged with Domestic Assault by Strangulation, which carries a maximum of three years and/or a $5,000 fine upon conviction.

n The following day officers responded to a call from a mother that her son was threatening suicide after an argument with his girlfriend.

Christopher Daniel Crew, 32, Guthrie, is alleged to have thrown a chair at the victim during an altercation. The victim was unable to call for help because Crew took her phone, the complaint states.

During the altercation the next day, Crew's mother talked him into surrendering his shotgun while the victim and her daughter cowered in a barn.

Crew then allegedly forced the woman into his vehicle and left with her, later surrendering to officers at his own home.

All three appeared in Hubbard County District Court Monday to ask Judge Paul Rasmussen to lift the no contact order for the holidays.

Rasmussen allowed the order to be lifted for Crew's mother but left the order preventing contact with the girlfriend in place.

"He needs to be helped," Crew's mother told officers at the tense scene.

Crew is charged with Kidnapping, which is punishable by a maximum of 20 years and/or a $15,000 fine and False Imprisonment, which carries a maximum penalty of three years and/or a $5,000 fine upon conviction, and Misdemeanor Domestic Assault, punishable by a maximum of 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine.

Eilers objects to the lifting of protection orders regardless of how contrite the offender is.

"It shouldn't be," he said. "Once an order's in place it should stay in place. That's how they all get help. It's hard to convince people that way. And then we go back again, and we go back again and we go back again.

"Most families can't deal with it on their own," he said. "If they could they would have dealt with it in the first place."

It is the proliferation of guns that worries Eilers the most.

"We're even finding them in traffic stops," he said. "Lately our guys have taken four or five weapons from under the seat or on the console.

"Things are just changing a little bit again," he said. "It's a downer time of the year for a lot of people. There's a lot of people struggling as it is and you put the holidays in with it and not all families get along."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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