Fugitive captured after manhunt through local cornfield

By Jon Tatting
ECM Post Review

A 26-year-old fugitive is behind bars after prompting a U.S. Marshal-led manhunt that started with a high speed chase in North Branch and continued with an extensive search through local cornfields on Friday, Oct. 28.

Deputies commandeered a farmer's combine as he was working in his field to use in the search.

With the search approaching the 24th hour, Shawn Michael Olthoff, from Duluth, was apprehended shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday at a residence just north of Pine City, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

The ordeal was a scary one for several local residents including one Fish Lake Township couple, who just missed confronting the fugitive who reportedly burglarized their home. Their experience is shared throughout this report.

It began when U.S. Marshals deputies attempted to execute an arrest warrant on Olthoff during a traffic stop around 9 a.m. Friday near the Oak Inn at Hwy. 95 in North Branch. He was wanted on a federal probation warrant regarding a firearm violation, said Deputy Thomas Volk of the federal agency, whose District of Minnesota office is based in Minneapolis.

Shawn Olthoff

A high speed pursuit ensued when the Olthoff vehicle fled via Hwy. 95, making it about 5 miles west into Isanti County before leaving the roadway near The Stand produce business. The car then drove north across a field, found road again and came to a stop just inside a cornfield near Little Pine Lake Trail and Black Hawk Road where Olthoff reportedly fled on foot.

With no sign of the suspect, the manhunt was on in Fish Lake Township. A state patrol helicopter was called in to assist in the search. County deputies using canines and farm machinery searched on the ground.

From inside their home, residents Bob and Shelley Schmidt had front row seats to the action outside as they observed sheriff’s deputies from Chisago and Isanti counties during the search.

Around 9:30 a.m. Friday, “Chisago County deputies were racing through the cornfield and down Little Pine Lake Trail,” recalled S. Schmidt. “The command center was set up in the field across the street from our driveway. A farmer (harvesting at the time the deputies arrived) gave the deputies his combine to search the field. Three deputies with rifles rode on top of the combine, searching the field. Roads were blocked off from traffic.”

At one point, she continued, one deputy drove on their front yard and up to the porch steps. “(The deputy) informed us there was an armed fugitive in our area and to remain inside with the doors locked,” she said. “After speaking with us, we gave him permission to drive through our yard and park in the field where he kept watch.”

Olthoff was believed to be carrying a hunting knife. Authorities kept busy checking homes, garages, pole sheds and other structures for people concerned for their safety and the safety of their children whose school day was about to end with an armed fugitive still on the lam.

No injuries were reported throughout the ordeal.

Yet it didn’t end there for the Schmidts, who were perhaps moments away from confronting the fugitive invading their own home on Friday afternoon.

When the U.S. Marshals deputies pulled out of their area around 2 p.m., they felt it was safe to bring their cat to the veterinarian in town. Arriving back home a little past 3 p.m., “a car came screaming past our driveway, stopped and backed up really fast,” Shelley Schmidt explained.

At that point, she said, Bob ran down the driveway and saw the fugitive jump in the suspect vehicle (driven by the fugitive’s girlfriend, according to the U.S. Marshals) and speed away.

The Schmidts gave chase in their own car, with Bob calling 9-1-1 and Shelley driving. Losing sight of the suspects – while also losing cell phone service – they headed home to call 9-1-1 again about what they had witnessed.

Upon their return, there was another discovery. They had been robbed. The bedroom was trashed, and their computer, a camera and their home cordless phone were stolen, said S. Schmidt, noting local law enforcement is working on recovering their property.

After his arrest Saturday morning in Pine County, Olthoff was transported to the Ramsey County Jail where he awaited a court appearance this week and questioning tied with other crimes. Home invasions are part of his criminal history, authorities noted.

Isanti County Sergeant Chris Caulk said five Isanti County deputies, and one officer from the city of Isanti and the city of Cambridge, assisted in the search in the cornfield. He said they arrived at the cornfield around 9:30 a.m. and cleared the scene around 12:30 p.m.

Besides searching the cornfield for the suspect, the officers from Isanti County also went to two homes located in Isanti County that were impacted by the situation.

“All the different agencies worked very well together, and we were all able to stay in communication through our portable radios,” Sgt. Caulk said. “Everything went as well as expected.”