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Benefit for Dean Baker set for Friday night in Lewiston

Coming off of five surgeries and with another three planned for the near future, it’s been a rough six months for Dean Baker.

To help, there will be a soup supper benefit held at Lewiston School on Friday from 5 p.m. until 7. The goal of the benefit is to help lighten the load of Baker and his family after a gruesome accident last summer.

On Aug. 12, Baker was cleaning up damage to his property after the massive storm that swept through in June.

The storm had damaged the roof of his family’s home just east of Beatrice as well as some of the outbuildings. That Saturday, he was 20 feet up on a ladder and in the process of dismantling a lean-to made of wooden telephone poles.

Then, when he heard his wife Michelle screaming, he turned and saw heavy poles starting to collapse in his direction.

Dean held onto the ladder and rode it down as a telephone pole struck him from behind, crashing him into the ground below. The pole had landed on his right foot and, as he managed to get the heavy wooden pole off himself, he noticed something wasn’t right.

“I realized my leg was going the wrong way,” he said. “I had a double compound fracture of my fibula and tibia. They were both sticking out of my leg.”

The broken bone had punctured his leg in two places, through the shin and through the knee.

Michelle ran inside to grab the phone and call 911.

Baker's son, Colten, came out to be by his side and held the phone as Baker described what had happened and how injured he’d been to dispatchers over speaker phone.

Rescue crews arrived and were about to load him into the ambulance when they noticed the bleeding. He had nicked an artery and was bleeding heavily, so they called for a helicopter to air lift him to the hospital.

The chopper landed in his neighbor’s field and the ambulance crew drove him over. He was airlifted to Bryan West in Lincoln, but some lifesaving medical procedures had to be completed en route.

“I guess between here and Lincoln, they had to do a blood transfusion,” he said. “Seven pints of blood total. I almost bled out.”

Baker said he remembered getting on the helicopter, but not much for the next few day. He was sedated heavily as doctors began surgery on his right leg.

He had multiple broken and dislocated bones in his foot. His tibia was fully broken in several places, and his fibula was shattered.

Doctors inserted a composite rod through his leg and numerous pins and screws to hold the bone together. Baker’s foot was so swollen, doctors were unable to operate right away and had to slash it open in three places to prevent swelling.

That’s when Baker noticed a sharp pain in his left foot. Doctors x-rayed it and found multiple broken bones and dislocations. Doctors operated and his foot was a jumble of staples and pins that extended through the toes back to the heel and penetrated his skin. Several weeks later, they were able to operate on his right foot.

He then developed a fracture blister that was hiding a blood clot behind it. The doctors removed it and the site became infected. When the tissue was removed, it left a lemon-sized hole in his leg.

“It went one inch deep, so pretty much to the bone,” Baker said. “I told them, 'Hell, I've eaten steak smaller than that.'”

Baker ended up getting three blood clots before doctors decided to install an IVC filter in a major artery that collects blood clots before they get to major organs.

In total, Baker had 37 dislocated or broken bones in his right foot and 24 in the left.

Knowing he’d be using a wheelchair when he got home, Baker’s father and father-in-law came to the house and built ramps leading to the front door, to the garage and into the kitchen.

Baker still uses a wheelchair if he has to go longer distances, but can use crutches or a walker around the house.

Baker is an armory sergeant at the state prison in Tecumseh and said that, even though he’s been unable to return to work so far, his coworkers have been pitching in, donating their vacation time to him.

Friends and family have been really helping the family out, Baker said. They took up donations to help the family for Christmas and a woman helped them to pay their electric bill.

His prison coworkers, along with Michelle’s coworkers at Lewiston School, are helping to throw Friday’s benefit, which is a wonderful thing, Baker said, but it leaves him with conflicting emotions.

“I’m grateful,” he said. “But then again, I don't like handouts. But I know my family needs it. Kind of have to swallow my pride.”

Baker is off the pain medication regimen he’d once been on and now just takes ibuprofen for pain, he said. He still gets jolts of nerve pain he calls “zingers” and he wears a bone growth stimulator to heal his still broken fibula. The doctors said he’s looking at possibly being able to drive and walk again in May.

He’s getting in-home physical therapy once a week and the family had to make the home handicapped-accessible by adding bars in the bathroom and putting in a shower curtain instead of the old shower doors.

“Mentally, my family's hurt too,” Baker said. “My wife couldn't go over towards the barn for a while. My son, it affected him a lot, seeing me hurt. It took a lot for him to understand I'm going to be able to walk again, be able to do things again.”

The benefit for Baker will be held from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. at Lewiston School during the basketball game against Sterling. There will be chili and chicken noodle soup, as well as deserts and sandwiches, Michelle said. There’s also a freewill donation for those who feel inclined. Michelle said that the idea for the benefit was started by Lewiston School Superintendent Rick Kentfield.

“It was a little rough at the beginning, but we're doing good,” Michelle said. “It was definitely hard.”

When Michelle is at work and the couple's children, Colten and Madison, are in school, Baker is usually home by himself. He can’t drive yet, and even short walks can be tough, but he’s never alone.

The family's dogs, Harley and Remington, are always by Baker's side, though they aren't always the most helpful.

When he was first home-bound and learning to get around, Baker had to scoot up and down stairs and to the car and back, which the dogs really enjoyed, he said.

“The way you get back, you basically crab crawl to the couch to get myself up,” he said. “The first time I did that, the dogs thought I was playing. I was trying to back up and the dog went behind me and laid down. That one jumped right up on my chest.”

Aubrey Trail claims responsibility for Sydney Loofe's death

Aubrey Trail claimed responsibility for the death of Lincoln woman Sydney Loofe and challenged the FBI to file charges against him and his girlfriend during separate calls with reporters on Wednesday.

“I am responsible, and I am accountable," Trail told the Journal Star.

The 51-year-old denied that Bailey Boswell, his 23-year-old girlfriend, had anything to do with Loofe's death, as he has in his public statements since their arrests Nov. 29.

Neither Boswell nor Trail have been charged in connection with Loofe's death or disappearance. An FBI investigation is on-going.

Loofe, a 24-year-old Menards cashier, went on a date with Boswell Nov. 15 and was last seen in Wilber at Trail and Boswell's apartment.

Her family reported her missing the next day after she didn't show up for work.

Loofe's remains were found off a country road southeast of Clay Center in south central Nebraska Dec. 4. Authorities said they found evidence of foul play there, but an FBI spokesman said Wednesday the bureau is only conducting a death investigation so far. No cause or manner of death has been publicly released.

Trail's comment to the Journal Star was vague, and he has not publicly confessed to killing Loofe or provided any detail on what happened. Later Wednesday, he told the Omaha World-Herald that he is "accountable for Sydney Loofe's death."

Since being named a person of interest, Trail has made a variety of public statements about the extent of his involvement in Loofe's disappearance and death.

Boswell has not spoken publicly since her arrest and did not respond to a letter the Journal Star sent her seeking comment in December.

Now being held at a maximum-security federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, Trail placed a series of calls to the Journal Star on Wednesday and promised "fireworks" at his next court appearance, which is now scheduled for Thursday afternoon. He and Boswell face federal charges related to an alleged fraud scheme.

In one call to the newspaper, he implored the FBI to file charges against him and Boswell because investigators have more than enough evidence against them.

"If they want justice for Sydney, somebody charge us,” said Trail, who stopped short of directly claiming responsibility for her death on that call.

Trail first spoke publicly about Loofe in Facebook videos posted online in late November shortly after Lincoln police named him and Boswell as persons of interest in her disappearance.

In that video, Trail denied their involvement though Boswell admitted she brought Loofe back to the Wilber apartment where they smoked marijuana.

The pair in that video said they dropped Loofe off at her friend's home in Lincoln, but investigators said they weren't able to corroborate that claim.

Trail in a Dec. 22 interview with the Journal Star declined to provide a more detailed timeline of events in the case beyond the moment when Loofe came to his Wilber apartment.

"That's where all the questions are going to come up in court," he said.

He wouldn't address what he did Nov. 16, the day Loofe was reported missing, but told a Journal Star reporter in a jailhouse interview that he, Boswell and an acquaintance of theirs went to a casino in Council Bluffs Nov. 17.

"I know for a fact, and I can prove that Bailey Boswell was not present when Sydney Loofe was killed," Trail said Dec. 22.

FBI spokesman Huston Pullen said Wednesday that Trail and Boswell are still considered just persons of interest in the case. He declined to respond to Trail's statements.

During Wednesday's call, Trail asked why there hadn't been more news stories about the Loofe case.

He also gave conflicting statements about the investigation and his involvement.

He claimed he told investigators that Loofe's cellphone was found along a roadside, and that he proved to them he could "deliver." Still, he insisted that having information and committing a crime are different.

Moments later, he made his vague comment about being "responsible" and "accountable" in the case, but when pressed to specify, he moved on.

"(Investigators) don't know where it happened. They don't know why it happened," Trail said on the call. "Let's make Wilber famous for more than just Czech Fest."

Aubrey Trail and Bailey Boswell

Trial begins to determine liability in suicide of Gage County inmate

A trial is underway to determine if the county is liable for the death of an inmate at the Gage County Detention Center.

A two-day bench trial began Thursday in Gage County District Court before Judge Julie Smith.

Chad Gesin hanged himself in a jail cell after he was arrested for domestic assault and third degree assault on July 4, 2013. In November 2013, a grand jury found there was no criminal conduct in his death.

The suit, seeking $1 million, was initially filed by Rhonda Reiber, administrator of the estate of Chad Gesin, in Gage County District Court in 2015. It was removed to federal court later that year and eventually remanded back to Gage County District Court.

Lyle Koenig, who represents Reiber in the case, said the county failed to properly care for Gesin while he was in custody and should have placed him on suicide watch.

“It’s our position that under Nebraska law, Gage County and the sheriff have a legal duty to protect Chad Gesin when in their custody,” he said. “…We think because there was ample evidence Chad Gesin was suicidal on July 4, 2013 after he was arrested at around 5 o’clock that afternoon and taken into custody, the Gage County Sheriff’s Department should have done certain things.”

The lawsuit alleges negligence by jail staff contributed to Gesin’s suicide while housed in the jail.

According to the claim, Gesin had prior interactions with the Sheriff’s Department, including a 2011 incident in which he stabbed himself several times and was taken to an emergency room by the department.

The suit claims the department was aware Gesin had suicidal tendencies and had attempted suicide in the past. It also claims Gesin’s girlfriend went to the jail after his arrest to pick up his cell phone, at which point she allegedly told staff he was suicidal.

The suit alleges jail staff was negligent and failed to supervise Gesin, and lacked properly-trained employees or adequate staffing.

Vincent Valentino, who represents Gage County and Sheriff Millard Gustafson, who are named as defendants in the case, said authorities were not aware Gesin was suicidal, and added that messages Gesin sent regarding suicide were referencing a song and that there was no way authorities could have known he was suicidal.

“The alleged statements of Mr. Gesin… are text messages,” he said during open arguments Thursday. And they’re threatening text messages to her with innuendo to some song he was apparently referencing that had a murder-suicide theme.”

Gesin was arrested in downtown Beatrice after police saw him and a woman arguing.

Gesin then allegedly walked to another vehicle and began punching a man through the window. A State Patrol trooper told Gesin to stop and handcuffed him.

The woman told the trooper she was leaving Gesin because of a domestic assault that occurred earlier in the afternoon at the Casey's General Store on South Sixth Street, where Gesin allegedly grabbed her by the neck, court records state.

Gesin had also sent her text messages earlier that indicated he intended to harm himself.

The 30-year-old was taken to the jail at about 5:15 p.m. and was discovered hanging in his cell less than two hours later.

Gesin died five days later at BryanHealth West in Lincoln.

Nebraska attorney general: Records from lawmakers to NU should be made public

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday said emails from state senators sent to University of Nebraska administrators and members of the Board of Regents are public records.

Last November, the Journal Star requested communications between state lawmakers and university policy-setters following an August confrontation between a graduate student lecturer and an undergraduate student who was recruiting for a conservative student group at UNL.

Previously, the Journal Star sought emails and voicemail messages received by NU after the incident gained widespread attention through social media, bringing a mix of support, criticism and threats to university employees.

One of the emails, which was shared with NU President Hank Bounds and was turned over to the Journal Star in an earlier request, included a message between several lawmakers indicating their interest in how NU would handle the situation.

The university denied the newspaper's November request for more emails from state senators, however, citing a provision of the state’s public-records statutes that exempts the “correspondence, memoranda, and records of telephone calls” of state senators from being disclosed.

In responding to the Journal Star's petition seeking the attorney general's position, Assistant Attorney General Natalee Hart said the university improperly applied the exemption to the state's public-records rules.

According to legislative history, then-state Sen. Vard Johnson introduced the exemption for state senators' records in 1983, saying the measure was aimed at keeping a constituent's communications with a state senator confidential.

“If a senator’s records are open to the public, this may inhibit a constituent from contacting his or her senator or from communicating with the senator candidly,” Johnson’s statement of intent from the 1983 bill reads.

Conversely, he said the exemption would protect senators who respond to their constituents from having their conversations be made public, unless they allowed it.

The exemption indicates individual senators can release the documents, if they so choose, or else the Executive Board of the Legislature can make the records public.

NU cited that part of the law — that senators would need to provide permission for the release of their records — in its denial to the Journal Star.

But the legislative history of the public-records exemption provided to state senators shows it was intended for requests made to individual senators or the Legislature as a whole, the attorney general’s office said.

“We do not believe the exception applies to correspondence written to another public body for which a public-records request is then made to that public body,” Hart wrote.

Once sent from a senator, the recipient — including state agencies — is now the custodian of the record.

“Consequently, we will request that the university release these records to you upon receipt of this letter,” the attorney general's letter concluded.

Wednesday, Bounds said administrators would discuss the attorney general’s decision with regents and the university’s legal counsel.

The university also plans to immediately begin gathering the records in response to the request, a spokeswoman said.

Journal Star Editor Dave Bundy said the newspaper would continue seeking disclosure of the public records.

“We’re gratified by the attorney general’s opinion, but until we have the emails in hand, we haven’t fulfilled our responsibility to the public,” Bundy said.