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ATV crash leads woman to call for end to risky behavior

Tammy Jo Manning

BOVEY, Minn.—Friends are planning a benefit in Bovey for Tammy Jo Manning, who was critically injured in a June 26 ATV crash in Taconite.

But close friend Clare Durand of Nashwauk doesn’t want the July 16 event to just be about raising money to help with Manning’s medical expenses, she said. She wants it also to be about changing what she considers to be a destructive culture of risky behavior on the Iron Range.

“We’re just trying to send the message that we need to make better choices on the Iron Range,” said Durand, 29, a childhood friend of Manning and her siblings and a middle school teacher at Greenway Public Schools.

According to the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office, Manning was riding in the rear box of a Polaris Ranger in the early morning of June 26 when the driver, Dustin James Sipe, 33, of Taconite looked back and saw she had fallen out and was injured.

Sipe later told a sheriff’s deputy that he immediately called 911 and began administering first aid.

According to a criminal complaint against Sipe, the deputy noted his speech was slurred, he smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet. He told the deputy he had been drinking from about 7 p.m. until an hour before the incident. He failed a field sobriety test and a preliminary breath test placed his blood-alcohol concentration at 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit for driving.

Sipe has been charged in State District Court in Grand Rapids with one count of felony criminal vehicular operation causing great bodily harm and one count of third-degree driving while impaired, a gross misdemeanor. He remained in the Itasca County Jail as of Wednesday.

Manning, 27, and the mother of two young boys, was airlifted to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where she initially was listed in critical condition. She was listed in serious condition on Wednesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Durand, who sat with her friend in the hospital for five days and was about to begin another five-day shift, said on Wednesday that Manning has been essentially nonresponsive. But on Sunday, she was able to briefly breathe on her own. She also could squeeze another person’s fingers, Durand said.

“I just feel like Tammy is taking her time,” Durand said. “She’s a really tough girl.”

But friends and family know any recovery will take a very long time, she said. That’s the reason fundraising efforts are underway: a gofundme page quickly brought in almost $10,000, and more than $1,000 was donated during Nashwauk’s Fourth of July parade.

The big event will be July 16, beginning with a motorcycle run from the Taconite Legion — where Manning worked — to Bovey.

Events in Bovey will include a silent auction, a live band, family-friendly activities and a meal served from 3-7 p.m. The food will include some of Manning’s favorite items, Durand said — pulled-pork sandwiches, pickle wraps, barbecue wieners, pasta salad, tuna salad and bars. The city of Bovey agreed to shut down a block of Main Street to provide space, she said.

But the main venue is Mike’s Bar, a location that might seem ironic given the nature of the accident that caused Manning’s injuries. “It’s kind of a catch-22,” Durand said. “It’s where she spent a lot of her time.”

Besides, Durand said, the message she and other organizers want to get across is not anti-drinking. It’s about making responsible choices.

“I think we just created this culture around the Iron Range where we drink and drive,” she said. “Everyone just does it.”

So the fundraiser is designed to encourage alternatives to drinking and driving. Some Bovey residents are making space on their properties so people can pitch tents and spend the night, and Bovey police are making some public land available as well, Durand said. A number of designated drivers also will be available to give people a lift home. Organizers are offering to lock up drivers’ keys, returning them only on proof of sobriety.

Durand is no teetotaler herself, she said. She had three drinks on the Fourth of July. But she doesn’t drink and drive, she said, and she’s dismayed that so many Iron Range residents in her age range almost seem to brag about carrying out activities after overindulging in alcoholic beverages.

But the event is not about placing blame, she said.

“We’re not trying to bash Dusty Sipe at all,” Durand said. “They were good friends. To be honest, Tammy wouldn’t even want him to be charged.”

One incident won’t change the culture of the Iron Range, Durand acknowledged. But she wants to at least get a conversation started.

“Love your neighbor,” Durand said. “Take away their keys.”

To learn more

The gofundme page to raise support for Tammy Jo Manning and her family is at gofundme.com/2bjetz2k.

To learn more about the July 16 fundraiser, visit the Facebook page “Benefit for Tammy Jo Manning.”

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