Third suspect in BWCAW shooting spree pleads guilty

Another suspect in last summer's shooting spree on Basswood Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness pleaded guilty Tuesday to reduced charges.

Another suspect in last summer's shooting spree on Basswood Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness pleaded guilty Tuesday to reduced charges.

Zachary Ross Barton, 19, of Ely pleaded guilty to one count of felony aiding and abetting terroristic threats and one misdemeanor count each of reckless discharge of a firearm and underage consumption of alcohol.

Barton will serve 20 days in a local jail and three years probation on the felony charge and also will testify against others charged in the case. He's also been ordered to stay out of the BWCAW for three years.

Barton testified in state district court in Lake County in Two Harbors on Tuesday morning that he was a member of a group that made terroristic threats to campers on Basswood Lake on Aug. 7. Barton conceded to drinking beer and firing his .22-caliber firearm while on Newton Lake but said he did not join others in his group in shooting his gun or verbally threatening campers on Basswood Lake.

Another suspect in the case, Jay Andrew Olson, 19, of Ely, entered pleas Tuesday of not guilty to multiple felony and misdemeanor charges in the Basswood case. His trial probably will be held within about 90 days, although no date has been set.


An attorney for another suspect in the case, Barney James Lakner, 37, of Ely again postponed his omnibus hearing, now set for Feb. 19.

Two other suspects pleaded guilty earlier this month. Casey James Fenske, 19, of Ely pleaded guilty Jan. 7 to one felony count of aiding and abetting terroristic threats, a gross misdemeanor for criminal damage to property and a misdemeanor charge of reckless discharge of a firearm.

Fenske will serve at least nine months at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center or a similar facility and will be on probation for three years. He also will pay restitution for damage he inflicted on a federal water-level gauging station on Basswood Lake in an earlier incident and will be banned from the BWCAW for three years.

Fenske admitted shooting about 50 shots from his .22-caliber handgun, including 20 shots during a confrontation with a family of campers. But Fenske said he shot only down, into the water.

Travis John Erzar, 20, also of Ely, pleaded guilty Jan. 7 to a felony count of aiding and abetting terroristic threats and a misdemeanor count of underage consumption of alcohol. Erzar will serve no jail time but will serve three years of probation on the felony charge. The felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor in Erzar's court record if he serves the probation without problem. Erzar also is banned from the BWCAW for three years.

Fenske and Erzar agreed to testify against other men charged in the incident. Additional charges against both men were dropped.

An as-yet unnamed juvenile also has been charged in the case. Efforts are under way to try the juvenile under a state statute that effectively treats him as an adult, said Lake County Attorney Russ Conrow.

According to court testimony, Fenske, Erzar and Barton motored into Basswood Lake late on the night of Aug. 7 to join Lakner, Olson and the juvenile, who had already been on the lake for some time in a second boat.


Lake County Attorney Russ Conrow has said Fenske, Erzar and Barton participated in only one act of terroristic threats and that the three were the least culpable of those charged. Conrow so far has not struck pleas with any members of the first boat who, according to court testimony and the criminal complaint, fired more shots from more weapons, including large fireworks, in the vicinity of several additional campers.

Conrow leveled 79 charges against the five adults in September, many of them felonies. According to the criminal complaint, the men brought cases of beer, a bottle of schnapps, mortar-like fireworks, a Russian-style semi-automatic assault rifle, a

.45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun, a .22-caliber handgun and a .22-caliber rifle into the wilderness for their evening boat rides.

In videotaped statements to law enforcement officers the morning after the shooting, four men -- Barton, Fenske, Erzar and Olson -- admitted to the spree.

Lakner apparently hasn't made a statement to police. He's been charged with 13 felonies and 12 other crimes. Lakner was arrested with a .45-caliber handgun and several clips. He has been previously cited for alcohol-related crimes and was charged with operating a snowmobile in the BWCAW.

Both boats entered a no-motor area of the BWCAW, and occupants of the first boat are believed to have crossed into Canada and fired shots in Ontario. No decision has been made about federal charges, and the investigation continues. Some of the men could face firearms and border-crossing charges in Canada.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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