November 26, 2014

Investigation yields little to explain why Idaho man set himself on fire

It remains a mystery why an Idaho man walked up to a gas pump at a Beatrice convenience store last week, poured gas on himself, and set himself on fire.

Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang says the investigation of the incident has gotten nowhere, primarily because investigators cannot talk to Luedeman who is listed in critical condition in the burn unit at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Lincoln.

“The only thing we do know is that his behavior changed a few days before the incident, according to his employers,” Lang tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KWBE. “Nobody really knows or has any idea what caused that behavior change.”

According to police reports, Luedeman, who is 28, walked up to a gas pump at the Cenex station with no shirt and no shoes on, poured gas on himself and lit it. The fire burned out and before he could pour more gas on himself, the clerk at the store shut off the gas to the pumps.

Luedeman then chased the clerk out of the store, grabbed scissors and an ice scraper and began cutting himself. Police arrived and used a Taser gun to subdue him. He was taken by medical helicopter to the Lincoln hospital, with what were described as life-threatening injuries.

Luedeman had been working as a mechanical engineer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was unclear why he was in Beatrice.

Lang says everything learned in the investigation found Luedeman was bright and articulate, with nothing in his background to indicate this kind of behavior.

“He appeared to be normal in every way,” according to Lang. “So, we’re not sure what changed to create this issue.”

Lang says Luedeman’s family hasn’t been able to shed any light on what might have triggered his behavior.

“They’re obviously in shock and trying to come to grips with how or why something like this would happen when there didn’t seem to be any history of drug use, no history of mental illness, no history of anything like this.”

Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this story.

Pilger bank president to be among “citizen heroes” honored on Friday

Gene Willers of Pilger

Gene Willers of Pilger

During Friday’s Nebraska-Iowa football game, the American Red Cross will honor two men, one from each state, who went above and beyond in the face of crisis.

Red Cross spokeswoman Kara Kelly says the honoree from Nebraska is Gene Willers, the president of the Midwest Bank Branch in Pilger, a town that was forever changed on June 16th.

“You may remember, there was a very large tornado that went through that town this summer,” Kelly says. “Gene put eight people in the bank safe. It only locks from the outside so he locked them inside and then went into the basement. The bank was in fact destroyed but luckily, everybody survived.”

The Iowan who’s being singled out for recognition as a “citizen hero” is 18-year-old Austin Benson of Winterset, a senior at Winterset High School.

“Austin acted with great bravery when his friend was thrown from her horse,” Kelly says. “The horse rolled on top of her and the saddle horn punctured her leg. It ended up being very critical injuries. Austin applied pressure to the wound and kept her awake while waiting for the ambulance. According the medical professionals, he really saved her life.”

Willers and Benson will be honored during the Cornhusker-Hawkeye game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

Austin Benson of Winterset, Iowa

Austin Benson of Winterset, Iowa

“We have a great presentation that will happen during halftime at Friday’s game,” Kelly says. “We have two videos that will show their stories. They’ll also have their names engraved on the Hy-Vee Heroes game trophy and then they’ll receive honorary plates from both athletic directors. It’s really a wonderful tribute to these two men.”

Benson, Willers and members of their families will be guests of the Hawkeyes and the Huskers at the game and will participate in a variety of special pregame activities.

Fans of both schools were invited to nominate residents of Nebraska and Iowa who have performed extraordinary acts of heroism and service in their communities. Staff and volunteers from the Red Cross selected the winners.

Fairfield man dies of injuries suffered in wreck caused by icy roads

A 56-year-old Fairfield man has died of injuries suffered in a weather-related accident this past weekend south of Hastings.

The Nebraska State Patrol reports Steven Anthony lost control of his SUV on an icy road Saturday, crossed the center line, and struck a pick-up. The driver of the pick-up and two passengers suffered minor injuries in the crash.

Idaho man clings to life after setting self on fire at Beatrice gas station

An Idaho man is being treated at a Lincoln hospital for life-threatening injuries after walking to a  Beatrice convenience store, pouring gasoline on himself, and setting himself on fire.

Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang says 28-year-old Matthew Luedeman walked up to a gas pump at the Cenex gas station early this morning with no shirt and no shoes on.

“Turned the gas pump on, held the nozzle above his head and poured gasoline on himself. He then set himself on fire,” Lang says. “After the fire had extinguished itself, he went back to the gas pump and attempted to pour more gasoline on himself. Due to the quick action of the clerk at Cenex, she shut the pump off so he was not able to put anymore gasoline on himself.”

Lang says the man went inside the gas station and chased the clerk outside. She called police.

Luedeman cut himself with a pair of scissors, then attempted to cut his throat with an ice scraper. An officer subdued Luedeman with a Taser. He was flown to Lincoln, suffering life-threatening injuries.

Lang says Luedeman has no history of mental illness or substance abuse and it isn’t known what triggered his behavior.

Lang says police have found no reason for his actions and had just been alerted that his family was looking for him.

“At the point that the call came in about him setting himself on fire at Cenex, we were on the phone with Idaho authorities, because they had pinged his cell phone and located him here in Gage County,” according to Lang. “His family had been concerned about him for several days, because he had made some somewhat irrational phone calls to them.”

Lang says Luedeman has been working as a mechanical engineer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He had no history of mental illness or substance abuse.

Lang says the entire incident was caught on a video surveillance camera. He described the video as graphic and disturbing.

Dave Niedfeldt, KWBE, contributed to this story.

Fremont teen found outside in bitter cold dies

A Fremont teen-ager has died after being found outside in the cold Sunday morning by a city worker removing snow.

Fremont police say 16-year-old Jaime Valdez was found outside early Sunday morning in temperatures hovering near zero, with wind chills of around minus 15. Police say relatives took the boy to Fremont Health hospital before officers arrived on the scene. Valdez was transferred to an Omaha hospital. He was pronounced dead later on Sunday.