Police: Minn. firefighter was repeatedly provoked before fatal beating

Footage shows that Steve Hlinsky remained unfazed by an agitated bar patron multiple times until another man joined in and blew marijuana smoke at Hlinsky

By Paul Walsh
Star Tribune

FORADA, Minn. — Over and over, the agitated bar patron tried to provoke a fight. First, he grabbed the man's beer bottle off the bar and threw it against a wall. Then he flipped over the man's cup.

On both occasions, the bar's video surveillance revealed, Steve "Beaver" Hlinsky refused to take the bait. He remained unfazed and seated at the bar inside the Muddy Boot in his western Minnesota hometown of Forada.

Two men were arrested for fatally beating Steve Hlinsky outside of a bar. (Photo/Forada Fire & Rescue)
Two men were arrested for fatally beating Steve Hlinsky outside of a bar. (Photo/Forada Fire & Rescue)

But when a drinking buddy of the provocateur joined in and blew marijuana smoke in Hlinsky's direction, the cool customer decided that was enough.

That decision, however warranted, cost the longtime small-town firefighter his life. Moments later, a bloodied Hlinsky was down on the sidewalk outside the bar, and four men in all high-tailed it out of there, according to police investigators.

Troy Traut (left) and Jacob Larson (right) were arrested and charged with fatally beating Steve Hlinsky. (Photo/Douglas County Sheriff’s Office)

That video footage is a key piece of evidence against Troy N. Traut and Jacob E. Larson, who both remain jailed Sunday on charges that they fatally beat the 46-year-old Hlinsky on May 5 during what appears to have been a dispute over a romantic relationship.

Traut and Larson, both 33, were charged Friday in Douglas County District Court with first-degree manslaughter and fifth-assault in connection with the beating. Traut, of Alexandria, and Larson, of nearby Kensington, were arrested Friday night. Their initial court appearances have yet to be scheduled.

Hlinsky was hospitalized until May 11 only to die two days later at his home. He suffered bleeding on the brain, broken facial and skull bones and a detached retina.

According to the charges' synopsis of the bar video and other evidence:

Traut, Larson and two others were at a table in the bar, and soon Traut approached Hlinsky in "an aggressive or agitated manner."

At one point, Traut grabbed a beer bottle in front of Hlinsky and tossed it against a wall. Traut later flipped over a cup in front of Hlinsky.

"On both occasions," the court document read, "Hlinsky remains calm, stays seated and does not react."

Moments later, Larson approached Hlinsky, "lights what appears to be a marijuana pipe ... then exhales and blows the smoke between Hlinsky and [a friend]."

As Hlinsky was escorting Larson to the door, Traut intervened and pulled Hlinsky by one arm out the door as Larson had him in a headlock.

No video captured the assault, and Traut and Larson both denied to law enforcement attacking Hlinsky that night.

Traut did acknowledge being suspicious about a romantic relationship he believed Hlinsky was having and argued with in the bar with Hlinsky about that.

The bartender told an investigator she heard Traut say to Hlinsky, " 'Come on, Beaver, let's go outside and handle this' or 'let's handle this outside.' "

Hlinsky was operating a fifth-generation grain farm south of Forada, along with carrying out his fire and rescue responsibilities as an assistant chief of the Fire and Rescue unit he served throughout his adult life.

Three members of his own Fire and Rescue unit tended to him at the scene of the beating, and members were called again on May 13 to his home, where he was declared dead.

Along with son Dominic and daughter Abby, Hlinsky is survived by his mother, Dorothy, and brothers Allan and Jon.

Copyright 2018 Star Tribune 

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