Ely Man Sentenced to Jail for Basswood Lake Snowmobile Chase

Barney Lakner
Barney Lakner

A man previously convicted of terrorizing Boundary Waters campers in 2007 has been given six months in jail for another illegal incident on Basswood Lake last year. Barney Lakner of Ely was sentenced this week for snowmobiling in the BWCAW illegally and fleeing law enforcement officers, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

In January 2014, Lakner and Edward Zupancich led three Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers on a snowmobile chase over thin ice at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.

“He clearly doesn’t believe that laws apply to him,” Assistant Lake County Attorney Lisa Hanson told the judge. “That’s especially true in the Boundary Waters.”

Lakner was convicted as the ringleader of the 2007 incident, in which he and accomplices spent a night firing weapons randomly and threatening numerous campers with assault. He served three years in prison for his role in the incident, when he was 37-years-old and his accomplices were all 17 to 20 years old.

Lakner is now 45 years old and his partner in the snowmobile incident was once again much younger – Zupancich is 27 years old. Zupancich testified in Lakner’s June trial that before they set out to illegally ride in the wilderness, Lakner said, “If you see anyone, keep going.”

The pair did keep going when spotted by conservation officers – who had been following their tracks – executing a 180-degree turn and heading for unsafe ice in Goose Narrows. After a mile-long chase, one officer tackled Zupancich off his sled, and the other officer cut off Lakner’s sled and grabbed by his backpack.

At the time, Zupancich admitted to fleeing, but by the time he and Lakner got to jail, Zupancich corroborated Lakner’s story that they were seeking safer ice. Zupancich was convicted of one felony and five misdemeanors earlier this year and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

It took a Lake County jury less than an hour to find Lakner guilty on all counts. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Michael Cuzzo ordered Lakner to spend 180 days in jail, three year on probation, and pay a $500 fine. He is barred from entering the BWCAW while on probation, and if he violates the probation, could face up to 13 months in prison.

The judge decided to not sentence Lakner to more prison time due to pleas by Lakner that he not lose his job as a delivery truck driver, which is how he supports his family. Cuzzo stayed the sentence for the felony conviction of fleeing a police officer.

The judge also told Lakner that his behavior needed to stop. “Mr. Lakner, at some point you need to grow up,” Cuzzo said. “You’re too old to be doing childish acts.”

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