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Mental health patient hijacks van east of Alexandria

A patient being moved in a van from a state-run mental health facility in Fergus Falls to the Twin Cities overpowered the driver Wednesday morning in Todd County and fled alone in the vehicle, authorities said.

The suspect, David Buethner, 37, considered to be a "dangerous felon," led officers on a chase that ended near Thief River Falls.

Buethner was heading from the Community Behavioral Health Hospital to a locked facility in Anoka County, the Todd County Sheriff's Office said in a news release. The driver was overpowered near West Union, east of Alexandria along I-94.

Buethner allegedly kicked the driver out of the van and took off by himself. The driver was not hurt. Later, a Becker County deputy spotted Buethner driving the van about three miles east of Detroit Lakes and a chase ensued, according to Minnesota State Patrol Capt. Dick Wittenberg.

Wittenberg said other law agencies joined the pursuit, which maintained speeds of 80 to 100 mph. Officers attempted to stop the van using spike strips about a half-dozen times.

About a mile west of Thief River Falls, Buethner was driving on two flat tires and made a U-turn in front of the vehicles chasing him. As he slowed to turn around, two officers used their squad cars to ram the van, stop it and eventually take Buethner into custody at 2:45 p.m.

One officer's airbag deployed, and he suffered minor injuries. One squad car sustained moderate damage, and the other was severely damaged. In the van, authorities found camping supplies, firewood and alcohol, including beer and hard liquor.

Wednesday evening, Buethner was in the custody of the Pennington County Sheriff's Department but was not at the jail in Thief River Falls, a jail spokeswoman said. Buethner was being evaluated to determine if he would be held at the jail. Wittenberg said he expects Buethner to face several charges in multiple jurisdictions.

September 24, Buethner was involved in an armed standoff at a Detroit Lakes motel where he had been living. Authorities said he called police, saying he had been drinking for four weeks straight and was off his medication. Buethner was served divorce papers that day, which is believed to have triggered the standoff.

Archie Ingersoll with the Grand Forks Herald contributed to this story.