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Man arrested after crashing vehicle through airport gates

A mangled gate could be seen Friday afternoon after an adult male crashed his vehicle through a gate at Cirrus Design at the Duluth International Airport earlier that morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

A 36-year-old Duluth man faces multiple felony and possible federal charges after he crashed a vehicle through the gated fence near Cirrus Aircraft early Friday, before speeding onto the runway and forcing an emergency closure of the Duluth International Airport.

The closure remained in place until the man was apprehended.

“We shut the airport down for about 30-40 minutes today, obviously due to the possible threat and the unknown,” airport spokesperson Natalie Peterson said. “We’re happy it ended the way it did. It was the best ending we could ask for — with very little interruption and no injuries.”

One commercial flight was delayed and a FedEx plane had to circle overhead while the episode played out before sunrise, Peterson added.

The man was stopped in the airfield and taken into custody. He is scheduled to be charged with a pair of first-degree felony counts — criminal damage to property and fleeing police in a motor vehicle — and fourth-degree misdemeanor driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

While the Duluth police identified the suspect, the News Tribune does not generally identify suspects prior to them being charged in District Court.  

The FBI “does not believe that the incident was ‘terrorism’-related in any way,” a Duluth Police Department news release said.

Law enforcement could not get the driver to voluntarily pull over while pursuing the suspect on the runway, said the Duluth police news release. Hermantown police were able to use their vehicle to push the suspect’s vehicle from the road, ending the situation, added the Duluth police.

A member of the airport’s maintenance personnel was working in the airfield and heard the noise of the vehicle crashing through a gated section of security fence near Cirrus, Peterson said.

The worker immediately called 911, eliciting a large law enforcement response beginning just after 7 a.m. The Duluth and Hermantown police, St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office and, because the airfield is federally regulated, FBI responded to the unauthorized vehicle on the runway.

The man was being held at St. Louis County Jail following his apprehension and pending formal charges, said the Duluth police. He was interviewed by the FBI and federal charges are pending review by the U.S. Attorney.

Peterson said fence and gate repairs had already commenced by midday. Peterson described the airfield as being completely fenced-in, per federal regulations. Anyone working in the airfield is required to have clearance, which includes a background check.

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