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20-year-old drowns in Big Chip

A 20-year-old man from Arlington, Virginia, who was vacationing in the area, drowned in the Chippewa Flowage after being reported missing from his island campsite Thursday, July 4, according to the Sawyer County Sheriff's Department.

Following a two-day search, the missing man, identified as Gage James Backstrom, was found early Friday, July 5, floating in the water near Big Timber Island, Sheriff Douglas Mrotek said.

The sheriff's communications center received a 911 call at 12:08 a.m. July 4 reporting a missing adult male on the Chippewa Flowage. The caller reported that the male was camping on an island in the eastern part of the flowage.

Sawyer County deputies responded to the island and found a boat rented by the missing man on the shore, a campsite with a tent and personal belongings, including the missing man's cell phone. The man was not at the campsite.

Sawyer County Search & Rescue personnel with drones and fire department personnel with an airboat searched the island, other nearby islands and the water in the area. The Sawyer County dive team searched the water near the island, assisted by the Wisconsin DNR, using underwater equipment.

LCO tribal game wardens, and Sawyer County Search & Rescue personnel with dogs assisted in the search. The combined search efforts continued until approximately 5:30 p.m. July 4, but the missing man was not located. Search efforts were then suspended.

Search efforts resumed at 9 a.m. July 5, including sheriff's deputies, DNR wardens, LCO tribal wardens, St. Louis County (Minnesota) sheriff's deputies, the Sawyer County dive team and search and rescue personnel. At 10:03 a.m. the missing man was found deceased, floating in the water near Big Timber Island. He was not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) when located.

Sheriff Mrotek said indications are that Backstrom was a drowning victim. An autopsy was performed and results are pending.

"The Sawyer County Sheriff's Office reminds everyone to wear a PFD any time you are boating or participating in other on-the-water activities," Mrotek said.

Train strikes Stone Lake mower on Metcalf Road

At approximately 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 3, a southbound Canadian National (CN) and a Washburn County tractor mower collided at the Metcalf Road crossing in the Town of Stone Lake, four miles west of Highway 27.

Brian Walter was mowing the south side of the ditch and traveling eastbound on Metcalf Road when the collision occurred. Walter, who was not injured, told authorities he did not see the train coming because his view was blocked by a railroad signal shed to the north. Walter also said he heard no warning horn from the train.

The Metcalf Road crossing is one of many area rail crossings that have no flashing lights or gate to warn traffic of an oncoming train.

The train apparently caught the tractor's left-front tire and spun it perpendicular to the tracks, blowing out the tire and breaking a wheel and possibly damaging the axle.

Along with deputies from the Washburn and Sawyer county sheriff's offices, also responding were members of Sawyer County Ambulance and Stone Lake and Bass Lake fire departments, along with CN personnel who helped control traffic as the train proceeded. The CN crew also was on site to replace the railroad 392.3-mile marker post that had been sheared off because of the collision.

Man gets 15 years for meth dealing
Still faces sentencing for deadly hit and run in Burnett Co.

Appearing July 2 in Sawyer County Circuit Court, Domminic Angelo Haugen, 38, of Radisson was sentenced to 15 years in state prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to more than 50 grams of methamphetamine in Sawyer County from Oct. 15, 2015, through Aug. 15, 2016.

Haugen was arrested Aug. 15, 2016, at 3901N Edwards Road, off Highway H north of Radisson, on suspicion of dealing meth and felony bail jumping. Officers found three firearms and methamphetamine paraphernalia at his residence. Four other persons also were arrested that day in Radisson and Exeland as the result of methamphetamine


After 15 years in prison, Haugen must spend 10 years on supervised release. He was credited with 1,060 days in jail and assessed $518 costs. Several other charges were dismissed but read in: delivery of 3 to 10 grams of meth on June 13, 2016, party to delivery of 10 to 50 grams of meth on June 23, 2016, party to delivery of more than 50 grams of meth on Aug. 2, 2016; and maintaining a drug trafficking place on Aug. 15, 2016.

As part of his sentence, Haugen and coconspirator William R. Koch, 56, of Winter must pay $1,700 restitution to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

In June 2017, Koch was sentenced to 15 years in prison plus 13 years of supervised release for conspiring to deliver more than 50 grams of meth.

Also on July 24, 2018, Haugen pleaded guilty in Burnett County Court to hit-and-run involving death. He was the driver of a vehicle that struck and killed a pedestrian, 30-yearold Courtney Oustigoff of Webster, on Burnett County Highway X in the Town of Dewey during the overnight hours of June 14-15, 2016.

Burnett County Sheriff detectives received an anonymous tip that Haugen had struck a female with his pickup truck and dragged her a distance. He then allegedly went home, cleaned the truck and then put animal blood on it to cover up the damage.

Authorities seized the truck, and a search of the vehicle revealed a piece of cloth stuck between a clamp and a hose near the transmission. Additionally, officers detected an odor of decomposition near the driver's side front tire once the tire was removed.

Haugen will be sentenced July 15 in Burnett County Court.

Birkie signs lease to use Telemark property
Lease includes option to purchase

The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) announced July 1 that it has signed a two-year lease to access the 713-acre former Telemark Resort property and to use its trails and infrastructure for events and snowmaking.

The Telemark property, which includes the lodge that has been closed since 2013, is adjacent to the Birkebeiner Trail start area owned by the ABSF, which is used by thousands of silent sports enthusiasts each year.

The Telemark property boasts approximately 30 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, 15 miles of mountain bike and snowshoe trails, and welcomed an estimated 55,000 users last year alone. Restoration work by ABSF trail staff has already begun on some of the Telemark property trails.

Ben Popp, ABSF executive director, said another consideration in signing the lease is directly related to the ABSF's snowmaking efforts. In 2018, after a successful capital campaign, the ABSF began its initial investment in snowmaking infrastructure, completing an over 2-kilometer manmade snow loop at the American Birkebeiner Trailhead. During this process, the ABSF worked collaboratively with property owners to use the well on the Telemark property.

The lease allows access to additional water sources for snowmaking efforts and toward guaranteeing a Birkie race even in low snow years.

Last year alone, nine Birkie events used a portion of the Telemark trail system. Whether skiing, running or biking, the Telemark trails have enhanced various Birkie event race courses as they connect to the current American Birkebeiner Trail system, Popp said.

Because the two-year lease also contains an option to purchase the Telemark property," Popp said the ABSF has begun a feasibility study, conducted internally by staff and with key stakeholders, "to explore, research and examine future possibilities for the greater property.

"This study will help to determine whether purchase of the Telemark property is viable and what the future could hold," Popp said. "Any possible future development, beyond restoring the trails, would require the involvement of future partners and supporters, and would not be piloted by the ABSF. "The Telemark property has

been at the heart of the Birkie since the race's inception. Having the opportunity to once again utilize the trails, to confidently install snowmaking infrastructure, and to make venue improvements is very exciting," Popp said. "While we don't know what the future holds for this historic property, we do know that having access to the land will help the ABSF increase our ability to host events of all levels, to support an active outdoor lifestyle, and to ensure the long-term viability of Birkie events for years to come."

Popp added that while the property has many challenges, including a shuttered and dilapidated lodge, overgrown trails and old infrastructure, at their core the former world-class trails are second to none in providing excellent experiences for silent sport enthusiasts.

"The ABSF's focus in signing the Telemark property lease is to gain access to the trails, the property's infrastructure, and to create potential event spaces for skiers, runners, bikers, and others who utilize the area trail systems," Popp said. "The ABSF is committed to creating outdoor experiences that inspire and enable a healthy, active lifestyle for the entire community."

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)