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Man arrested after car-surfing death in Burnett County

A St. Paul man may be the latest victim in the high-thrill practice of car-surfing.

Shawn G. Swanson, 21, was fatally injured Saturday night after he fell while riding outside a vehicle in Burnett County.

The Burnett County Sheriff's Office received a call for medical assistance on Glendenning Road in Oakland Township just after 11:30 p.m. Saturday. Swanson died the next day.

The driver of the vehicle, another 21-year-old St. Paul man, was arrested for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. He was released Monday after posting $500 cash bail. He is scheduled to make an initial court appearance at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The Burnett County District Attorney's office hasn't yet filed a criminal complaint in the case.

The News Tribune typically does not release the names of suspects before they are formally charged.

The sheriff's office said the driver and others were car-surfing before Swanson fell. The office is not releasing more information, saying the matter still is under investigation.

How many people are killed or injured car-surfing in America isn't known, since there is no uniform reporting of the incidents. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety doesn't track the incidents, according to Office of Traffic Safety spokesman Nathan Bowie. A call to Wisconsin state safety officials wasn't immediately returned.

The best numbers -- which probably understate the problem -- come from a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which used a database of American newspaper articles from January 1990 to August 2008. Researchers found 58 car-surfing deaths and 41 non-fatal injuries reported during that time.

The average age of those injured or killed was 17.6, with males accounting for 70 percent of the victims. The largest number of car-surfing injuries and deaths occurred in August, and 74 percent of the incidents reported happened in the Midwest and the South.

The report also noted that car-surfing injuries and deaths were reported over a wide range of vehicle speeds, from as slow as 5 mph up to 80 mph.

"While car surfing may be appealing to teens and others, our recommendation is simple -- don't do it! Even a vehicle moving at a slow speed can be deadly," Dr. John Halpin, the study's lead author, said in a news release when the study was published in the Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report on Oct. 16, 2008.

"Parents should talk to their teens about the dangers of car surfing, especially if they feel that 'car-surfing' has gained attention and popularity in their community," he said.

While people have car-surfed for years, some authorities believe the practice has become more common in these days of social media and web videos.