Beartown driver pleads guilty


ANOKA, Minnesota — A Baraga man pleaded guilty this month to charges related to the deaths and injuries of fellow firefighters last year in Minnesota.

Michael Allen Johnson, 29, entered the plea Aug. 8 on two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and one count of criminal vehicular operation causing great bodily harm.

Johnson was driving a Beartown Fire Department truck on Aug. 27, 2016, when he fell asleep at the wheel on I-35 West in Blaine, Minn. The truck struck the median and rolled, resulting in a crash that claimed the lives of two of Johnson’s fellow firefighters from Baraga County.

Alan Schwartz, 25, and James Shelifoe Jr., 23, were killed in the accident that injured Johnson and the other six passengers: Joseph A. Jossens, David R. Varline, Ross J. Jaukkuri, Gavin C. Loonsfoot, Shashywin D. Sandman-Shelifoe and Tyler J. Tolonen.

The Beartown Firefighters from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community were en route to fight the Box Canyon wildfire in Utah when the crash occurred.

Johnson admitted he had used drugs in the days before the accident. His toxicology report confirmed the presence of cocaine and benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine.

Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. Nov. 9 in Anoka County District Court.