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Boats seized in July 4 hit-and-run investigation

MOORHEAD - Authorities have seized two boats and may seize more as they continue to search for the suspects involved with a July 4 hit-and-run crash in Becker County that seriously injured a West Fargo man.

Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon said Tuesday that his office is looking for boats that have port-side damage or recent repairs. The seized boats are being investigated for any evidence linking them to the crash. If the boats are ruled out, they will be returned to the owners.

"It's the process of elimination. We're continuing to talk to people, we're continuing to bring in boats, but we've eliminated a lot of boats so far," Gordon said.

"It's just part of the investigative process," Gordon said. "To make any assumption would be false."

A search warrant filed Tuesday in Clay County District Court says authorities seized a 1991 Four Winns Fiberglass boat Aug. 15 from a home in Hawley.

According to the search warrant affidavit, Becker County deputies noticed the boat appeared to have recent repairs on the port side of its hull and on the transducer. The repaired areas are consistent with areas that would have been damaged in the boat crash.

Last month, the Becker County Sheriff's Office released a sketch of the boat - based on witness descriptions - and asked the public to report any similar boats that may have been damaged or recently repaired.

The roughly 17-foot boat is suspected of ramming a Bayliner boat holding Taryn and Terry Erickson, their two young children and their neighbor around 10 p.m. at Big Cormorant Lake, just south of Lake Park. The incoming vessel hit the rear of the Erickson boat and went over the top of it, breaking Terry Erickson's leg and hip.

Witnesses told officials the unidentified boat circled around and looked at the crash site, but continued on while the Erickson family pleaded for help. The witnesses reported two men and a woman were in the boat that hit the Ericksons.

According to court records filed Tuesday, the suspects stopped to ask the occupant of a nearby boat if he was going to tow the Erickson boat ashore. When the witness said he did not have a tow rope, they threw one to him and took off, the search warrant affidavit said.

The affidavit said the seized boat belongs to a Hawley man who lives at the residence where the boat was taken from. On July 4, aquatic invasive species inspector records show a truck hauling a watercraft registered to the Hawley man was on Big Cormorant Lake Access.

The affidavit also said numerous anonymous tips have come into the Becker County Sheriff's Office identifying a Twin Valley man as the one operating the boat responsible for the crash. The Twin Valley man told officers he previously lived at the Hawley address where the boat was seized from, but he moved away a few years ago, the search warrant said.

The Twin Valley man said he was on Lake Cormorant July 4 but went home before the time of the crash, according to the search warrant.

Gordon said Tuesday there has been no evidence found that the Twin Valley man was involved. No lead suspects have been identified, Gordon said.

The investigation of the Hawley boat may take weeks or months, the search warrant said. Outside specialists and forensic scientists with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will inspect the boat.

Gordon said the case is discussed daily in his office.

"It's not something we're going to forget about, we're going to try and solve this and not let it get cold," Gordon said. "The Erickson family deserves that."