Minnesota dentist faces arson charge following Wis. boathouse fire

John Michael Haag of New Richmond, Wis., is accused of setting fire to a boathouse on Bass Lake.
John Michael Haag of New Richmond, Wis., is accused of setting fire to a boathouse on Bass Lake.

NEW RICHMOND, Wis. - A Woodbury, Minn., dentist accused of setting fire to a boathouse near his rural New Richmond residence "looked as if he were a deer in headlights" when authorities told him they traced a set of footprints from the scene of the fire directly to his garage, according to a criminal complaint filed in St. Croix County Circuit Court.

Creekview Dental CEO John Michael Haag allegedly took an ongoing dispute over a boathouse on the east side of Bass Lake into his own hands Feb. 2 when he carried gas cans from his home, cut through a neighbor's yard on Hidden Oak Trail and walked about a half-mile south along the edge of the lake before using an accelerant to set fire to the structure.

According to Creekview Dental's website, Haag, 55, opened the Woodbury dental practice in 1993.

Wallace Cudd, the property owner, told authorities he heard from a neighbor that members at a 2018 monthly lake association meeting said they should tear down the boathouse "whether Cudd likes it or not," according to the complaint, but Cudd was unable to provide proof of the statement.

In the unapproved draft of the meeting minutes from June 9, 2018, Bass Lake Rehab District posted on its website, Haag — listed as the group's treasurer at the time — brought up the Pier Planning guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and how "ideally things should 'blend'" along the shoreline.

"He also brought up the boat house on the east side of the lake that is in the water," the minutes state. "He said he could get a group of volunteers to help take it down if that will help. It was brought up that he will need to contact the owner and offer that help."

Cudd told police he didn't give anyone permission to set his boathouse on fire.

According to the complaint:

The boathouse following the fire. Photo courtesy of St. Croix County Sheriff's Office
The boathouse following the fire. Photo courtesy of St. Croix County Sheriff's OfficeSt. Croix County Sheriff's Office
For almost two-and-a-half hours, Cudd battled the fire at his boathouse before he was able to put it out and contact authorities.

Cudd said his wife notified him of the fire around 2:15 a.m. Feb. 2 and he went to put it out because "he was concerned the fire would spread to trees and other properties."

A set of footprints was located in the snow leading away from the property, which deputies were able to follow from the boathouse to Haag's residence once they arrived on scene shortly before 5 a.m.

"The tracks angled every ten feet or so as if the suspect was turning around and checking behind him," one deputy wrote.

When authorities made contact with Haag later that morning, he offered Hidden Oak Trail as the route he takes when he walks his dog. The deputy noted Haag offered this information before he was informed of the fire's location.

During initial questioning at his residence, a deputy noticed two portable gas cans near the garage with the nozzles open.

Haag denied all allegations.

When authorities returned to collect information for a warrant, Haag appeared nervous and eventually stated, "It was me, I did it, I started the fire."

Haag then handed over a jacket, balaclava, gloves, hat, neckwarmer, snow pants and a pair of boots he said he wore the night of the fire. The tread pattern on the boots matched the pattern of the footprints leading to and from the boathouse.

Cudd said his boathouse has been falling apart over the past couple years — and the Bass Lake Association and DNR became involved and wanted the structure removed. He said he worked with the DNR and had this winter to complete the teardown.

Cudd also told police a neighbor to his south mentioned to him on "a few occasions" that he needed to take his boathouse down and that it was violating the Bass Lake Association's rules on the house and that a neighbor to the south shined a flashlight on him while he attempted to put out the fire.

Haag faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. He made his initial appearance in court Feb. 4 and is scheduled for a March 8 preliminary hearing.