Hermantown reacts to first homicide

Hermantown police responded to a grim first in the city's 32-year history on Monday night after a stabbing outside the Runway Bar & Grill resulted in the death of a 27-year-old man.

Hermantown police responded to a grim first in the city's 32-year history on Monday night after a stabbing outside the Runway Bar & Grill resulted in the death of a 27-year-old man.

It's the city's first homicide, said Hermantown Police Chief Mike Anderson.

Police responded to a call at 10:03 p.m. and found the victim in the parking lot outside the bar, at 4766 W. Arrowhead Road. He died while en route to a Duluth hospital, Anderson said.

A 20-year-old man was later arrested and is in custody at the St. Louis County jail, with

second-degree unintentional homicide charges expected to be filed today, Anderson said.


Anderson declined to name either man.

"There's no simple way to put it," Anderson said of the homicide. "Hermantown is like any other city. I'm saddened any time anybody dies as a result of violence."

Violent crimes remain uncommon in Hermantown, though they aren't unheard of: In April, a 24-year-old Hermantown man was charged with three felony counts of using a

9 mm handgun to shoot at a car outside his house. More common are drug crimes, traffic accidents along the busy Miller Hill corridor and burglaries.

The Police Department responded to 7,661 calls in 2007, a 14 percent increase from 2006 and a 35 percent increase from 2003, according to department records. There were 75 assaults recorded in 2007.

"It was bound to happen sooner or later," said Keith MacDonald, Hermantown mayor and a longtime resident, who said he was surprised and saddened at news of the homicide. "By and large, most residents do feel safe in Hermantown. Over 40 percent of our budget goes to the Police Department, but there's only so much you can do to ensure public safety."

Over the years, "we've had assaults that could have turned into homicides, but the people survived," said Hermantown school resource officer Wayne Boucher, who has been with the Police Department for more than 30 years and will step into the mayor's chair in January.

Boucher and Anderson said the Runway didn't generate any more police calls than other similar establishments.


"Hermantown is no different from Duluth, Minneapolis, Chicago," Anderson said. "We are not exempt from violent crimes. But the demographics of Hermantown are different from those other cities. ... We do have some, just not a lot."

The city has tried to increase its police force to keep up with its rapidly expanding population. The 14-member Police Department represents the single largest expenditure in the city, MacDonald said. But balancing requests for more money for police against other needs in the city remains a challenge, he said.

Bonnie Frey moved to Hermantown 36 years ago, before the township officially became a city. She has lived on Midway Road ever since, and said she "still feels really safe" in her community, though traffic through town has increased exponentially.

Frey was surprised by the homicide, and wondered if drug crimes were "spreading in from the edges of Duluth," she said.

Regulars at the Runway, which was open for business as usual on Tuesday, also were surprised at the news.

Wally Szybczynski and Joyce Wegerson, both of Duluth, were just starting their ritual second game of cribbage Tuesday afternoon at the Runway. They visit the bar nearly every day to play cards, have coffee and visit. Their table has a view of the parking lot.

Both were "shocked" to learn about the homicide.

"It's so nice and peaceful here," said Szybczynski, who has regularly visited the Runway for more than 30 years. "It's a wonderful place to see friends."


"This is shocking for me," Wegerson said. "There's a mellow crowd here. I never see people get rowdy."

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