Robbery, fraud concerns in city

Pine County Sheriff’s Office deputies are continuing to deal with crime, safety and medical issues in the Pine City area. At the Jan. 8 meeting of the Pine City Council, Pine County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Robert Ouverson said that the most significant crime event in Pine City this past month was the Jan. 1 robbery at Walmart, where a woman grabbed an older woman’s purse, and dragged her across the parking lot before getting into a vehicle.

“They fled and ended up getting caught down in North Branch,” Ouverson said. “They were caught and brought to our jail. So it’s a good thing. We can’t stand for that, obviously.”

(See more in “Suspect charged after Walmart parking lot robbery” in the Jan. 9 edition of the Pioneer, or online at

New deputy

Ouverson also introduced Deputy Colin Waddle, who started as a contract patrol officer in Pine City in November.

Waddle said that the sheriff’s office responded to a number of calls at Walmart this past month dealing with shoplifting and other issues. He also noted that there have been many calls relating to fraud or attempts at fraud. He said there have been different types of fraud reported.

“People trying to use other people’s checks to pay for items,” Waddle said. “The online scam stuff where people are saying, ‘You owe us money’ – and people giving them their money. So, if you get a phone call from somebody you don’t know asking for money, don’t give it to them. We’ve been dealing with a lot of that lately.”

Icy streets

Pine City Mayor Carl Pederson noted that the local drivers have been dealing with hard-packed snow and ice on local streets.

“Have there been any accidents with the streets the way they are?” Pederson asked. “We have some challenges with our streets right now.”

Waddle said that there have been accidents, but they were caused by drivers, not street conditions.

“There have been a few [accidents] due to inattentive driving,” Waddles said. “Other than that, not directly from the streets.”

Honoring Deputy Neel

Council Member Steve Ovick, former chief deputy of Pine County, shared another thought on a recent tragedy.

I would just like to add, on behalf of the city council, I’d like to express our sincere condolences to the sheriff’s office and the family of Deputy Ben Neel.

He noted that Neel, who had been in a coma since undergoing brain cancer surgery, had been taken off life support on the day of the meeting, Jan. 8.

“I had the privilege of hiring Benny and working with Benny for many years,” Ovick said. “It’s a real tragedy that we’re losing such a fine young man.”

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