Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Car slams into house in my Faribault neighborhood December 11, 2020

The scene mid-morning a block from my house shows a KIA Optima lodged in my neighbors’ house.

HOURS AFTER LAW ENFORCEMENT and first responders swarmed my Faribault neighborhood this morning, I called a neighbor to see if she knew what was happening. Up until that point, I’d only walked to the end of my driveway to, from afar, observe at least six police cars and other vehicles parked near a house on Tower Place, lights pulsating. Just minutes earlier, an ambulance turned the corner by my home, sirens blaring. That concerned me.

A child’s slide sits near the point of impact.

The neighbor in me wanted to run up the hill to assure everyone was OK. The journalist in me wanted to race up the hill with my camera. The you’re-not-a-reporter-anymore voice warned me to stay away, that emergency personnel didn’t need extra people roaming the scene.

Close-up you can really see the extent of the damage.

When I observed a tow truck and a flat bed tow truck driving up the street, I surmised that perhaps a vehicle hit the house. My neighbor confirmed that in our phone conversation.

I believe the tarped area is a fort where the boys who live here play.

At that point, with nearly all emergency personnel clearing the scene, I headed up Tower with my camera. I passed by an angled vehicle blocking the street and was greeted by a police officer who asked if I was from the Daily News. I told him I was a neighbor, but that I sometimes work with the local paper. He seemed OK with that. I asked if everyone inside the house—a couple with two elementary-aged boys—was alright. He assured me they were, but declined to give the condition of those in the vehicle. Media reports state both the driver and passenger were taken to the hospital with the passenger flown to the metro and that the incident involved a police pursuit which was called off.

This house is within a block of mine.

My first look at the blue KIA Optima lodged into the house at 128 Tower Place left me standing there in disbelief. The car apparently hit the house at a high rate of speed given the damage to both car and house and given the entire front of the KIA rested inside the home.

I’ve been in this house, when the previous owner lived there. If I remember correctly, the section hit is the kitchen. This incident happened around breakfast time, well before 9 a.m. That the family inside was not injured and that no gas explosion occurred are truly reasons to feel grateful.

Tracks and paint mark the path the car followed as it shot across the road and flew over a fence before landing inside the house.

Once I took my focus off the house and car, I looked for signs of how the KIA got into the yard without demolishing the chain link fence. Tire marks and paint sprayed by investigators show that the car failed to negotiate a turn and then launched from a hill, over the fence, across the yard and into the house.

Hours after the crash, police and State Patrol remained on-scene. This is located near Bethlehem Academy, to the left.

As I photographed the tire marks, the police officer standing guard advised me that I was walking in an investigation scene. I apologized. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I overheard him tell to young people that the Minnesota State Patrol would wrap up its investigation within an hour. He was tight-lipped, and rightly so. He suggested that I’d taken enough pictures. He extended only kindness to me at my misstep. I got the hint, apologized again, and started back home, shaken.

This isn’t the first time a car hit a house in my neighborhood. Decades ago, a parked car rolled down another steep hillside street and slammed into the front of our next-door neighbors’ house. And a tire once came off a vehicle, rolled down the hill and slammed into our house, nearly hitting the gas line/meter. The tire mark is still there on the siding. Yet, that’s nothing compared to what happened this morning at 128 Tower Place.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From Faribault: Any “domestic” is one too many June 2, 2017


SEVEN DOMESTIC CALLS in four days…and one call for violation of a restraining order.

The stats, published on the May 31 Matters of Record page in the Faribault Daily News, shocked me. That’s a lot of domestic-related calls handled by the Faribault Police Department from May 26-29 in a community of some 23,000.

I’ve been especially cognizant of local domestic situations since the late December 2016 high profile murder of Barb Larson by Richard Larson. The former Faribault police officer committed suicide after killing his ex-wife at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. She had a restraining order against him, granted within days of her murder.

Just weeks prior to the Larson murder-suicide, Ryan Perizzo murdered 8-year-old Lynnaya Stoddard-Espinoza before killing himself in their Faribault home.

Those crimes shook my community. And they should have.

But the reports I am reading of nearly daily domestic calls within Faribault should shake all of us, too. Four in one day. To all different parts of my community. Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone in any neighborhood. And it does. I’ve witnessed such abuse and called police.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


I recall my Uncle Bob, a retired Minneapolis police officer, telling me domestic calls are the most dangerous. Why? Emotions and passions are running high. Perpetrators of abuse often fail to accept responsibility for their actions and blame others. They desire power and control. All of those factors put victims, and law enforcement, at great risk.

What can we, the public, do? We can educate ourselves (and our kids) so that we understand domestic abuse and violence. We can refuse to remain silent. We can listen to and support victims and connect them with resources to help them escape abusive situations. We can encourage the judicial and probation systems to hold offenders accountable. Too often these abusers walk away with little or no punishment, only to reoffend.

Frankly, I am tired of it.

Consider, too, for a moment how many cases of domestic abuse go unreported. Compare it to the motorist who drives drunk many many times before he is finally stopped for driving while under the influence. Or maybe he’s never caught.

Be aware that domestic abuse is not just physical. It’s emotional, too. That abuse can also be psychological, mental, spiritual, financial and technological. Abusers are often narcissistic. They manipulate and twist and exert their power. They are the center of the world, in their eyes, and you better not challenge that.

I wish I could wave a magical wand and end domestic abuse and violence. But because I can’t, I can at least spread awareness. And there is power in using my voice.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: My insights into domestic abuse and violence are not specific to the cases cited within this post. Also note that if you are in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim. Seek professional help to make a safe exit. Know, too, that a restraining order is just that, an order, with no guarantee of protection. 


Two found dead at Faribault Chamber December 23, 2016

UPDATE, 6:55 p.m. Friday: Faribault police have identified the two individuals found shot to death as Richard “Dick” Larson, 61, and his ex-wife, Barbara Larson, 59. Richard Larson apparently shot Barbara and then himself. Richard Larson was a retired Faribault police officer. I remember him. A harassment restraining order was served on him earlier this week.

Their identity does not surprise me as I quickly connected the dots.

About a week ago, Barb Larson was interviewed by local KDHL radio station personality Gordy Kosfeld about Chamber activities. You can view that interview by clicking here.

I am deeply saddened by this act of domestic violence. A restraining order is no guarantee of protection. Something has to change.


This afternoon, a man and a woman were found dead behind a desk at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office in an apparent murder-suicide, according to police.

I am still trying to comprehend this violent tragedy, the second such in just 12 days. On December 11, a 33-year-old man and an 8-year-old girl died of gunshot wounds in a murder-suicide in a residential neighborhood of Faribault.

At this point, just hours after the bodies were found, information is limited to early media reports and a news release from the Faribault Police Department. That release states officers found a firearm at the scene and that the public is not at risk.

Additionally, the release states that “No other Chamber employees were present or injured.” That leads me to conclude that at least one of the deceased is a Chamber employee.  With a population of around 23,000, Faribault is a small enough city that our Chamber/tourism people are highly-visible and well-known.

I listened to a police audio on mnpoliceclips.com, which suggests the possible identities of the deceased.

I am sad, just incredibly sad. I have no other words than to advise all of you to hold close those you love.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


About those creepy clowns October 14, 2016



POKING AROUND MS. MAC’S ANTIQUES in Janesville on a recent Friday afternoon, I came across clowns nestled in a basket. There was nothing frightening about them. They’re just dolls crafted from fabric—some homemade, others manufactured.

But seeing them on display got me thinking about the clown sightings around the country. Last Saturday evening a clown costumed 15-year-old boy was arrested in Crookston, Minnesota, for allegedly scaring people with a butcher knife. All across the U.S., creepy clowns are showing up in communities, creating fear and sometimes chaos.

Even McDonalds has been impacted. The fast food chain is limiting appearances by Ronald McDonald, apparently thinking he best keep a low profile until this whole clown thing blows over.




In my southern Minnesota community, police are being proactive, issuing this statement last week on the Faribault Police Department Facebook page:

We have now gotten a couple of calls about clowns around town. These are actually young people dressed as scary / crazy / kooky clowns. We have no information to indicate they pose a threat to anyone locally, other than being creepy.

The clown craze is the latest attempt at social media influenced hysteria. There have been several arrests around the country in recent days for making terroristic threats and disrupting public school functions.

If you see, or are concerned about, clowns hanging around, please call us and we will gladly check them out.


Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

I photographed this clown Halloween mask last October at Antiques of the Midwest in Albert Lea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


In neighboring Kenyon, noted Police Chief Lee Sjolander isn’t taking things quite as seriously. If you follow his department’s Facebook page, you know that Sjolander thinks, writes and acts outside the box. Here’s the Chief’s take on the clown issue:

I was asked by a parent for my opinion on their young child dressing up as a clown this Halloween. I was told this has been planned for a while and I also know our Kenyon Park & Rec. are planning a clown theme for their Halloween event as well.

Here is my opinion. Dress as a clown if you like, and here is why…

We live in a small town, we know almost everyone, and I’m not one to fall into conspiracy theories, rumormongering, fear, or hoaxes. We have had no “clown sightings” and if we do, we will follow up on them just like we would any other call.

I’m also a huge supporter of common sense. Now a young child dressed as a clown walking with their parents or friends holding a bag of candy is way different than an adult dressed as a clown carrying a weapon and scaring people. That’s like someone dressing as a deer and walking through the woods during deer season… Not the best thought out plan and that can lead to someone getting hurt.

When you say “clown” in Kenyon, most people think of Frank and Bob, who are two of the most loved and respected shriner clowns you could ever meet, and they are local residents.

So there you have it. My opinion. I think I’ll dress as a small town cop again this year, like I do every year…

Please use good judgment, common sense, and if you have any questions or concerns this Halloween, please feel free to contact us.


Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac's Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It's a 1940s balloon machine.

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac’s Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It’s a 1940s balloon machine.


I don’t understand this whole clown thing. I don’t understand why anyone considers it a good idea to dress as a clown for the purpose of scaring, threatening and/or harming people. There’s nothing funny about this. Nothing at all.

Clowns are supposed to make us smile, make us laugh, bring us joy. They are not meant to terrorize.

Legitimate clowns are, as Chief Sjolander writes, to be loved and respected.


© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An unsettling phone call involving a “situation” March 11, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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MY LANDLINE RINGS. It’s a few minutes before 8 a.m. Monday. My heart lurches. Phone calls early in the morning scare me. Usually the caller bears bad news. I hesitate, then pick up the receiver.

A recorded voice from the Rice-Steele County Dispatch Center delivers this message after I am instructed to push one:

Faribault Police Department and SWAT team is currently involved in a situation in the southwest part of Faribault. Citizens are not at risk and are advised to stay out of the area.

Alright then. That’s pretty general and raises all sorts of questions.

First, what’s happening?

Second, where in southwest Faribault and how do I know what area to avoid if I’m not given the location of this “situation”?

Third, if there’s no risk, then why was I called?

Fourth, is it safe for me to go outdoors?

The wooded hillside in my backyard blocks the view of my entire neighborhood.

The wooded hillside in my backyard blocks my view of Wapacuta Park and the adjoining neighborhood.

Nothing appears unusual in my neighborhood. However, because I live in the valley with a wooded hillside abutting a city park in my backyard, I don’t have a full scope view.

I dial the radio to the local station for the morning news. Nothing. I check the police department’s Twitter account. The last update was three days prior.

I hung out the laundry.

I hung out the laundry shortly after receiving the call about a “situation” in southwest Faribault.

I determine it’s safe to hang my laundry in the backyard.

I do.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used here for illustration purposes only.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used here for illustration purposes only.

Later, I will learn from a Faribault Daily News staff member’s Twitter account, that the “situation” occurred about two blocks from my home by Wapacuta Park. The park up the hill borders my property. Had the wooded hillside not blocked my view, I would have seen the law enforcement presence resulting after a suicidal man reportedly barricaded himself in a home. With a two-month-old. And guns.

Thankfully, the situation was peacefully resolved. About 2 ½ hours after receiving that warning call, my phone rang again with a message that the “situation” had ended.

The presence of SWAT teams in my neighborhood is not new to me. Once, many years ago, when a young man was murdered two blocks away in a drug deal gone bad, a team swept through the area searching for the murder weapon, a knife.

A Rice County sheriff squad and two Faribault police cars follow the SWAT team and ERU vehicle up First Avenue Southwest.

A Rice County sheriff squad and two Faribault police cars follow the SWAT team and ERU vehicle up First Avenue Southwest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2010.

I once saw SWAT and ERU vehicles, followed by police and sheriff cars, proceeding up a side street past my house.

Each time, it was unnerving. Scary.

That brings us back to Monday morning. Should southwest Faribault residents like myself have been given more information? Personally, I would have appreciated a more precise location. But then, again, I understand the reluctance to provide that. Doing so likely would draw unwanted onlookers.

Was the phone call even necessary?

Should the police department have posted something on their Twitter account?

Please share your thoughts.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


How would you feel if your neighborhood was repeatedly picked for post prison placement of predatory offenders? January 30, 2013

SERIOUSLY, NOT AGAIN, I thought to myself upon hearing that a Level 3 sex offender is moving into my neighborhood.

This marks the fourth, perhaps fifth, time in recent years (I’ve lost track) that I’ve had to worry about a predatory offender settling within blocks of my Faribault home.

I am not happy. Not happy at all. Who would be?

A city of Faribault snow plow spreading salt and sand onto the street past my house on Monday.

This shows a portion of my Willow Street neighborhood, but not the block in which the offender will be living. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, January 2012.

I wondered why these particular criminals, those most likely to re-offend, keep choosing my neighborhood. So I posed that question to Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen in an e-mail. Captain Neal Pederson of the FPD responded on Bohlen’s behalf:

As to why they often locate on Willow – when offenders are released from prison they work with their supervision agents to find housing. Some owners have fewer qualms about who they rent to than others.

Alright then. Let me ask this to the supervising agents and the accommodating property owners: Would you want to live next door to, or within two blocks of (like me), a man who has served time for criminal sexual contact with male and female victims between the ages of two and 15?

I would be surprised if you answered “yes.”

I know. The man has done his time. But…put yourself in my position and that of my neighbors, many with children in this offender’s target age group. I can count 15 children living within eyesight of my front yard.

Put yourselves in the shoes of the children who will walk past this predator’s home on the way to their Willow Street bus stop (practically within a stone’s throw of the offender’s doorstep) or to the public library or community center just blocks away. How would you feel if you were their parents?

Put yourselves in my neighborhood, in this defined section of Willow Street, which repeatedly has been chosen to house predatory offenders. How would you feel? I bet you’d feel as frustrated and upset as me and my neighbors that your neighborhood is continually singled out for post prison placement of predatory offenders.

I realize my neighbors and I can’t do anything to keep this offender from moving onto our street upon his February 7 release from prison. But we can voice our opinions and concerns and gather information at a community notification meeting slated for 6 p.m. Thursday, January 31, at the Faribault Police Department.

Police department spokesman Pederson assured me that local media, schools and the nearby community center have been notified of the offender’s pending release. The FPD has posted information on its website.

On Monday I received a community alert phone call advising me of the situation and community notification meeting. My neighbor directly across the street did not. I hope my other neighbors got the message. Somehow. I’ll be knocking on a few doors. We as a neighborhood and others in Faribault, including representatives of the bus company, need to attend that meeting with the Minnesota Department of Corrections and local police. We need to become informed.

That is seemingly all we have right now—the power to arm ourselves with information to protect ourselves and our children.

FOR DETAILED INFORMATION on the predatory offender moving into the 300 block of Willow Street in Faribault on February 7, click here to the Minnesota Department of Corrections website.

TO READ A POST about a community notification meeting I attended just two years ago, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Another reminder that I don’t live in Mayberry May 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:37 AM
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YESTERDAY MORNING I was obliviously writing on my computer when I noticed a young man standing directly in front of the sidewalk leading to my front door. Now, lots of pedestrians pass my home. But, typically, they do not stand and stare at my house. And typically, they are not wearing black baseball caps tipped to the side nor do red bandannas sprout from their back pockets.

I was not born yesterday. I am well aware of gang colors and attire.

But this man was committing no crime by standing there on a public sidewalk.

However, my intuition told me to keep an eye on him and to let him know I had seen him.

So I walked into the living room, making sure he spotted me through the open front door. I considered slamming the interior door and locking the dead bolt in place. But I figured with a locked screen door, traffic passing by and my cell phone within reach, I was safe. Besides, I didn’t want him to think I was intimidated or afraid.

So I returned to my office, until I heard voices. I walked back to the living room to find the man, now joined by a young woman, sitting on my front steps within feet of me.

I didn’t really think, just strode over to the screen door and boldly blurted, “What are you doing on my front steps?”

The guy said something I couldn’t hear due to the traffic noise and my hearing loss.

But the woman sneered, “Sitting here.”

They didn’t move.

I didn’t budge.

For a split second I worried that I had made a grave mistake by confronting them.

But then they slowly got up and ambled across the street. I watched as the man grabbed at the woman’s arm and she pulled back. I was fully prepared to call 911 to report an assault if the situation escalated. But it didn’t and the couple continued on, separately, until they entered a nearby house.

My husband and I have called 911 before—once in the dead of a cold winter night during an assault and once when a young man pounded on our door seeking protection from a throng of would-be attackers pursuing him.

We don’t live in a high crime neighborhood, like Faribault has a high crime neighborhood. But our community is certainly not immune to serious crime.

Many years ago, two blocks from my house, a man was stabbed in a drug-related case. I watched as a SWAT team searched my block for the murder weapon, a knife.

Last year the SWAT team drove past my house en route to a meth house bust three blocks away.

For years, suspected drug dealers lived across the street from me.

Gang graffiti has been painted onto buildings, fences, stop signs and more as close as directly across the street from me.

I’ve attended several level three sex offender meetings with one of the offenders moving in two blocks away.

Faribault is not Mayberry R.F.D. And yesterday I was reminded of that once again.

ACCORDING TO INFORMATION published in the 2010 Faribault Police Department’s annual report, the Rice County Gang Suppression Unit “has identified 50 gangs and approximately 350 gang members with ties to the City of Faribault. Of the 350, 150 are confirmed gang members, meaning they meet at least three of ten state defined criteria.”

READERS, HOW WOULD YOU have handled the situation I faced yesterday with the suspicious young man staring at my house and then sitting on my front steps with the young woman? Should I have ignored them, done something differently?

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling