Troy Traut told the state’s attorney that his friend, Jacob Larson, kicked Steven “Beaver” Hlinsky while Hlinsky was on the ground.
“He kicked three solid kicks to his head,” Traut said. “Two like he was punting a football and then he stomped, like he was stomping down.”
Traut, 34, formerly of Alexandria, now of Pine River, testified Monday, Jan. 13, against Jacob Larson, 34, of Kensington who is currently on trial after being accused and charged in the beating of Hlinsky outside the Muddy Boot bar in Forada in May 2018. Hlinsky died eight days later, on May 13.
Larson is charged with second-degree murder; aiding and abetting second-degree murder; first-degree manslaughter; and aiding and abetting first-degree manslaughter. All are felony-level charges. He is also charged with two misdemeanors, fifth-degree assault and aiding and abetting fifth-degree assault.
Traut, a co-defendant in the case, was originally charged with the same offenses. However, on June 6, 2019, in Douglas County District Court, he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor fifth-degree assault charge.
As part of the deal that was reached, Traut agreed to testify against Jacob Larson. In addition, the five other charges against Traut were dropped. The maximum penalty for Traut’s misdemeanor fifth-degree assault charge is up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
‘I just have to tell the truth’
After Traut took the stand Monday, Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson asked him to describe the events of the evening in question.
Traut said he’d been working earlier in the day in Glenwood and after work, he went to his friend’s house to help him with some fencing. That friend was Frank Kalina, who he had been friends with since high school. Eventually two other people showed up, Jason Kraft and Jacob Larson.
Traut said he’s known Jacob Larson for about 15 years and considered him to be a friend.
Eventually, they ended up going to the Muddy Boot Bar and Grill in Forada for some beers and food.
When Chad Larson asked Traut if he knew Hlinsky, Traut said he had known him for about 15 years, but said he did not consider him a friend.
Traut explained that while at the bar, he got into an argument with Hlinsky after Hlinsky told him he should be home with his wife and kids. Traut said it made him mad and that he told Hlinsky he shouldn’t be having affairs and to mind his own business.
Traut said during the exchange, Hlinsky just sat there and that eventually, he took Hlinsky’s beer, threw it and it broke but Hlinsky just sat there and didn’t do anything.
Because the bartender told him to knock it off, Traut said he went outside to smoke a cigarette with Kalina. He had wanted to leave, he said, but had yet to pay his bar tab.
Traut said he went back inside and saw Hlinsky setting up a table to arm wrestle with some of the other guys and that after going to the bathroom, he decided to go back outside.
“I was over it. I embarrassed him, I embarrassed myself. I was ready to leave,” said Traut.
This time, Traut went outside with Kraft, but still had not paid his bar tab. He was going to go back inside to pay it when he learned that Jacob Larson was in the bar smoking from his marijuana pipe. He was on his way in, but never made it in because Larson and Hlinksy were in the doorway.
Traut said he grabbed Hlinsky and then he ended up going out the door with both Hlinsky and Larson. He described the fight between Jacob Larson and Hlinsky as a hockey fight and that they both were throwing punches. Hlinsky fell forward and was in between the curb and the street.
After Hlinsky fell, Traut said Jacob Larson kicked Hlinsky numerous times.
“We all yelled at him to stop,” said Traut. He said that he, Kalina and Kraft were all within 10 to 15 feet of each other.
“I yelled it, I yelled for him to stop,” said Traut.
Traut said he went back into the bar to see if the bartender was calling 911 because if she wasn’t, he was going to.
“I would have been the first person to call,” said Traut.
The next day when he was interviewed the first time, Traut said he was still in the clothes from the night before. He said he told authorities that Hlinsky had just fallen and that he didn’t get back up.
“Was that the truth?” Chad Larson asked Traut, to which he said it wasn’t. The attorney asked Traut why he didn’t tell the truth at that time.
“Jacob is a very good friend, I didn’t want to rat him out,” Traut stated.
Chad Larson asked Traut if he assaulted Hlinsky, if he hit him or kicked him. Traut replied, “No, sir.”
Traut said he left before authorities arrived on scene because the bartender told him to leave. Traut said Kraft stayed to help Hlinsky, and that Jacob Larson and Kalina also left.
While being cross-examined by Jacob Larson’s attorney, Todd Peterson, Traut said he had told Hlinsky that if Hlinsky wanted to have an adult conversation, the two of them could go outside to talk like adults. Peterson asked Traut if that meant he wanted to fight him and Traut said it did not.
Traut said he called Hlinsky a piece of sh** and that Hlinsky was drunk.
“We were all drinking. I don’t think he was acting drunk, not anymore than anyone else,” Traut told Peterson. Traut said he could tell Hlinsky was drunk because of his eyes, not because of how he was walking. Traut said Hlinsky’s balance wasn’t off.
Peterson questioned Traut’s testimony and his plea agreement and kept asking him about his different statements. At one point Traut asked to speak to his own attorney, Gary Leistico, who was in the courtroom. It was allowed and after a brief recess, Traut took the stand again.
Peterson asked about a statement that Traut had previously made to authorities where he stated, “So we hit him.” Peterson asked if by “we,” he meant himself and Jacob Larson. Traut told Peterson that it was a misprint and that it should have said, “So, he hit him,” referring to Jacob Larson.
Peterson asked Traut if facing lesser charges, which in turn means facing lesser time in jail, was a strong motivator for him to cooperate to which he replied, “Yes.”
“So you deliver the goods and you get what you want,” Peterson asked Traut.
He replied, “I just have to tell the truth.”
Complications of blunt force trauma
“Did he die as a result of the assault?” Chad Larson asked.
“Yes,” replied Angelique Quinn Strobl, the chief medical examiner at the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey.
Strobl, who has been the chief medical examiner since 2010 and was the associate medical examiner from 2005 to 2010, performed the autopsy on Hlinsky after he died.
As a forensic pathologist, she determines the cause and manner, or the how and why, when a person dies.
Hlinsky’s death was ruled as a homicide, she said.
During an autopsy, the medical examiner does a detailed examination of the body – outside the body, inside the body, sends samples, reviews medical records, takes photographs and more.
Strobl performed the autopsy on Hlinsky in the morning on May 14, the day after he died.
She recalled there was lots of bruising on his head, shoulders and arms, fractures on skull and nose, and bleeding on his brain.
Chad Larson asked if his injuries would be consistent with someone tripping and falling. Strobl said they would not.
“There were multiple extensive injuries and a brain injury beyond a trip and fall,” she said.
She determined the cause of death as “complications of blunt force trauma” and that Hlinsky had bleeding in his adrenal gland. She listed many risk factors of that kind of hemorrhage, including infection, stress on the body, head trauma, being on blood thinners and that Hlinsky was exposed to many of those risks.
She said the manner in which Hlinsky died was homicide and that it was “the assault that led to his death.”
When asked about a tiny laceration that was found on Hlinsky’s liver, Strobl said it didn’t contribute to his death. She said there was no documentation of any liver disease and that there was no alcohol in his system at the time of the autopsy.
“Did he die as a result of the assault?” Chad Larson asked Strobl.
“Yes,” she replied.
When cross examined, Todd Peterson asked Strobl how many times she has testified on behalf of the county and she said didn’t know the exact number off hand, but that it was somewhere between five and 50.
He asked numerous questions regarding Hlinsky’s blood alcohol level at the time of incident and if alcohol impairs a person’s judgement. He asked if alcohol makes a person become combative and belligerent. Strobl replied that it did, but said a head trauma could also make someone behave that way.
He also asked numerous questions regarding adrenal hemorrhage and the risks, such as infection, which he said Hlinsky had.
He asked Strobl if his injuries were life threatening, why wasn’t he kept in the hospital. She said she disagreed with the hospital’s decision. “I don’t think he should have been discharged,” she said.
Strobl told Peterson that regardless of the discharge, it doesn’t change the manner or cause of death. She said Hlinsky was hospitalized as a consequence of the head trauma and that because he was “beaten about the head” it was the assault that set the chain of events into motion that then led to his death. She said he would have never been hospitalized had he not been assaulted.
An array of photos logged into evidence
When Sgt. Mike Tvrdik, lead investigator in the case, took the stand, he described the events of the evening. He detailed the scene as shown through numerous photos. He was shown still shots of the video from inside the bar, as well as video from outside the bar that showed Jacob Larson, Traut, Kalina and Kraft arriving at the bar as well as leaving the bar.
He described the photos of the scene that showed Hlinsky’s blood outside the bar on the street, sidewalk and on a tire.
He described the photos of Hlinsky’s injuries that were taken in the hospital. He described a photo of Hlinsky after Hlinsky had died and was laying on the floor at his son’s house.
He described the photos of Traut, including his face and hands, as well as photos of Kraft and his hands and face.
There were no photos of Kalina or Jacob Larson.
Tvrdik told Chad Larson that he had planned on interviewing Hlinsky when he returned home from the hospital. He was supposed to interview him on May 14, but Hlinsky died May 13.
When cross examined, Peterson asked Tvrdik numerous questions about Hlinsky’s blood alcohol level. He asked questions about alcohol burnoff rate that Tvrdik couldn’t answer. He said it depends on the person.
He asked Tvrdik about marks on Hlinsky and if there was evidence regarding whether an instrument was used. Tvrdik said there was no instrumentality identified. He asked if the blood on the curb could have been caused by Hlinsky falling and hitting his face to which Tvrdik replied it was possible.
Son and daughter give Spark of Life evidence
Dominic and Abby Hlinsky, the son and daughter of the deceased, each took the stand. They said their dad was a farmer, gambling manager, on the Forada Fire Department since he was 18 and had been a first responder since 2012.
As a Christmas card picture of Abby and Dominic with their dad was displayed on the TV screens throughout the courtroom, the siblings talked about their dad. They said he was a happy guy, who helped them through hardships, that he was quirky and funny and loved to make people laugh. Abby said her dad was a hard worker, kind, determined and her best friend.
Dominic said they farmed together and their life revolved around the farm. It was what they did together as father and son.
Abby said she and her dad liked to golf, have lake days and dinner dates, take trips to the casino and binge-watch Netflix.
They both said their dad was healthy and then both with tears in their eyes, described the days after the assault and the day their dad died.
Abby explained that she did CPR on her dad when she found him on the floor on the side of the bed in the guest bedroom of her brother’s house. That is where he was staying when he came home from the hospital. She heard him fall and when she checked on him, he wasn’t breathing so she yelled for help and then started doing CPR.
Dominic recalled being in a tractor and getting an active 911 call at a familiar address as it was his own. He remembered trying to call his sister and she didn’t answer. He called the fire chief and was told it was a full code. He remembers not being let inside the house and that he stood on the deck and cried.
After he was let inside, he went to his bedroom and just waited. Ambulance personnel had to put oxygen on him and wrap blankets around him as he said he was in shock. He remembers being told his dad didn’t make it and that he had died.
Both Abby and Dominic were released as witnesses after their testimony.
The trial is set to resume on Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 8:45 a.m.