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Fire claims house with a history: House was site of policeman’s murder

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2013

The remains of home located at 1056 Frank Ave. S.E. that caught fire Friday evening. PHOTO BY KARA GUTORMSON/PLAINSMAN

HURON — Firefighters determined that the fire that decimated the house at 1056 Frank Ave. S.E. was electrical in origin. The call to the fire department came in at 7:35 p.m. Friday evening, but Fire Chief John Coughlin said by the time they arrived on scene, the house was fully engulfed in flames. “There was fire coming out of all the windows and we didn’t get the call right away due to a language barrier,” he said.

Through an interpreter, first responders learned that it was a family of four who occupied the house, a mother and father and two children.

At press time, no names had been officially released. Don Peterson of Huron owns the property, but was not available for comment at press time.

A total of 24 firefighters worked on the scene, but were unable to save the house.

Coughlin said there was someone in the house when the fire started. “The individual woke up to smoke and got out of the house safely,” he said.

Upon investigation Saturday morning, firefighters determined that the fire started due to overheated space heaters. “We found three space heaters, two in one room,” said Coughlin. “We’re guessing this was probably an overloading electrical circuit. It might have had multiple areas where the wire broke down.”

Coughlin wants to remind the public that space heaters take a lot of electricity, and that older homes may not have the electrical capacity needed to run them safely.

“We need to make sure everybody knows the risks of overloading circuits,” he said. “No matter what language they speak, we need to do a better job of educating people,” he said. In November, a house at 447 Ohio Ave S.W. caught fire due to a space heater.

The house at 1056 Frank has a dark past, as a Huron police sergeant was stabbed to death there on March 30, 1982.

According to the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police website, Sgt. Tom Callies and Patrolman Andy Larson of the Huron Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance call at the house.

Before their arrival at the home, the caller, Janice Palmer, left the home and went next door. When the officers arrived, no one answered the door.

They proceeded into the house. Steve Bittner was hiding at the landing of the stairway going to the upper floor. As Callies climbed up to the landing, Bittner jumped out with a hunting knife and stabbed Callies once through the liver, causing Callies to fall back down the stairs.

Bittner then stabbed Larson once in the lungs and again in the arm, opening Larson’s arm from elbow to shoulder and down to the bone.

Both officers fell down the stairs firing shots, and retreated from the house.

Callies collapsed outside the house, and despite massive blood transfusions and trauma surgery, he died.  Larson recovered and stayed in law enforcement for some years.

Bittner is serving a life sentence in prison.

For the complete article see the 01-06-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-06-2013 paper.

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