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Tickets anger tornado-ravaged family

Rich Loerzel nearly drowned while trying to rescue a calf from a watery manure pit after a tornado hit his Richville, Minn., farm Sept.

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Rich Loerzel nearly drowned while trying to rescue a calf from a watery manure pit after a tornado hit his Richville, Minn., farm Sept. 5.

Two days later, Loerzel was hit with something else -- a careless driving ticket for the way he drove his tractor to get to the manure pit.

Friday, Loerzel spoke angrily of the ticket that arrived by mail.

After the misery his family went through, Loerzel said he couldn't believe a Minnesota State Patrol trooper chose to cite him for the incident.

Loerzel's father, Tom, who took off in a pickup when he heard his son needed help and sprayed gravel in the process, also got a ticket in the mail.

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The family's losses from the tornado will top $1 million, Tom Loerzel said.

"And I have to pay a fine on top of that?" he said Friday.

State Patrol Capt. Bruce Hentges said there's another side to what happened.

The trooper who wrote the ticket, Brian Gibbs, perceived the maneuvers made by the Loerzels to be "a danger to himself and other people on the roadway," Hentges said.

However, the State Patrol won't discuss details of the case before it reaches court, he said.

In the wake of the tornado, debris littered the farmyard and a crowd of onlookers gathered on the road next to the property, Rich Loerzel said.

When he learned his daughter's 4-H calf was drowning in a manure pit, Loerzel said he jumped on his tractor and tried to make his way to the public road that led to a rear driveway to his property.

The way was obstructed by onlookers and the trooper's car, so he honked his horn for the trooper to move, Loerzel said.

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When the trooper ignored him, Loerzel said he drove through a ditch to reach the backside of the farm.

The calf was saved but not before Rich Loerzel nearly drowned and had to be pulled from the pit by two friends, his wife, Denise Loerzel, said.

When Tom Loerzel heard about the situation at the manure pit he rushed to help, throwing up rocks from the shoulder of the road when he spun his pickup tires, Denise Loerzel said.

"We think it's just ludicrous," Denise Loerzel said of the tickets.

The Otter Tail County Attorney's office declined to talk about the case Friday.

Perham attorney John Minge, who plans to represent the Loerzels if the case reaches court, said he is in negotiations with the prosecutor's office and believes an agreement might be worked out.

The tornado created a dangerous situation at the farm, Minge said, but he believes the county attorney's office is sensitive to the situation.

"I think everybody wants to see this resolved reasonably," he said.

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Hearings on the tickets scheduled for Tuesday in Otter Tail County District Court have been taken off the court calendar while negotiations continue, Minge said.

The tickets carry $170 fines, Rich Loerzel said, but he's more worried about what a conviction would look like on his driving record.

"It (careless driving) is no joke," he said.

A careless driving conviction generally is considered a major violation and sometimes results in insurance companies dropping coverage, said Richard Olson, an agent with Fargo-Moorhead Insurance Inc., in Moorhead.

For vehicles covered under a farm policy, the repercussions might not be as severe, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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