Charges: Man left to buy drugs before Tower fire that killed infant nephew

VIRGINIA -- Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski told police that he left his 11-month old nephew Bentley alone for about two hours last Wednesday morning to go buy drugs, according to charges filed Monday.

Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski

VIRGINIA - Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski told police that he left his 11-month old nephew Bentley alone for about two hours last Wednesday morning to go buy drugs, according to charges filed Monday.

When Bonacci-Koski returned to the house in Tower, the criminal complaint said, he saw firefighters at the scene and ran off - not yet knowing Bentley Joe Lewis Koski had perished in a house fire.

Bonacci-Koski then allegedly stole a vehicle, crashed it into a ditch, hid in the woods and eventually gave himself up to sheriff's deputies all before noon that day.

On Monday Bonacci-Koski appeared in State District Court where he was formally charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter - both felonies - one count of felony auto theft and a gross misdemeanor charge of possession of methamphetamine which officers allegedly found in his backpack.


Bentley Joe Lewis Koski

The manslaughter charges allege that Bonacci-Koski “did cause the death of” Bentley Joe Lewis Koski by neglecting and endangering the child.

State District Court Judge Gary Pagliaccetti set bail at $200,000 for Bonacci-Koski, who is scheduled to be back in court on Aug. 21. He remained in the St. Louis County Jail in Duluth on Monday night.

Pagliaccetti also appointed a public defender for Bonacci-Koski, who told the court he had no job, no money and no ability to pay for a lawyer.

St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, in a rare courtroom appearance, also informed Pagliaccetti that his office planned to seek an upward departure from normal sentencing guidelines. If found guilty of the manslaughter charges, Bonacci-Koski would otherwise face about 48 months in prison, Rubin told reporters after the hearing. Rubin is asking that any sentence for a guilty verdict will be longer because of the “particular vulnerability of an 11-month-old child” left alone.

Rubin told the judge that Bonacci-Koski, 24, of Hibbing, who was initially arrested Wednesday on outstanding felony warrants from earlier charges, is a threat to flee and that the defendant  recently walked away from a chemical treatment facility. Bonacci-Koski also “is a danger to the public,” Rubin said.

According to the criminal complaint, Bentley Joe Lewis Koski was declared dead at the scene of the fire at 813 Third St. N. in Tower. The complaint said medical examiners later found soot in the child’s esophagus, stomach and airways.

The boy’s parents, Krista Joan Swanson and Cody Joe Koski, arrived on the scene shortly after the incident. They told Breitung Police Department Chief Jesse Anderson they had been gone for the night and that they left the child with a babysitter - Cody Koski’s brother, Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski.

They said Bonacci-Koski had babysat for Bentley before. But the criminal complaint said Bonacci-Koski was “nowhere to be found” when the parents arrived home Wednesday morning.


Officers later Wednesday morning responded to reports of a man acting strangely, sitting in someone’s vehicle in Tower without permission. The man initially had a dog with him that matched the description of the Koski family dog. Officers later responded to reports of a stolen Jeep Cherokee that eventually was located crashed in a ditch along State Highway 169 in nearby Pike Township. Bonacci-Koski walked out of the woods near the stolen car and surrendered to St. Louis County Sheriff’s Deputy Trevor Banks

In custody in the Virginia office of the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, Bonacci-Koski told officers that “he was guilty of neglecting the child and had left the child alone for two hours in the residence where the fire had occurred,” the complaint notes.

“In the interview with the defendant it was determined that he had left the child at the residence in Tower in order to go and buy controlled substances,” the criminal complaint notes.

Rubin said Monday a formal medical examiner’s report on the child’s death has not yet been released. Authorities also have not yet released the cause of the fire but have said it did not appear suspicious.

Bonacci-Koski has a long history with criminal courts dating back to at least 2011. He has felony convictions for second-degree assault and violating a harassment restraining order along with drug possession, fleeing police, check forgery, misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct.

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