Shooting victim was 'amazing person' sister says
© The Minneapolis-St. Paul Pioneer Press
September 23, 2006
Early Friday morning, she streaked out of the bedroom where her mother and a friend had just been shot dead and ushered her younger sister out of the house to safety.
A witness to more tragedy than any child should endure, Taylor Lee, 12, deserves praise for keeping a cool head, her aunt said Saturday.
'She's such a sharp girl, and she really is a hero in all this,' Vicki Seliger Swenson said.
At 4:18 a.m. Friday - Taylor remembers looking at the clock - a loud crashing sound awoke Taylor, her mother Teri Lee, and Tim Hawkinson, a Maplewood resident staying with them.
Taylor was sleeping in her mother's bedroom in their West Lakeland Township house because she was afraid of Lee's ex-boyfriend, Selig Swanson said. Two days before, he had shown up at a her volleyball game, despite a restraining order barring him from doing so, according to Seliger Swenson, police and court records.
Minutes after the crashing sound - from an intruder breaking through a patio door - that ex-boyfriend entered the bedroom and shot Lee, 38, and Hawkinson, killing them, police allege. Taylor tried to call 911, but the man ripped the phone from her hands, Seliger Swenson said. She ran out of the room, grabbed her 6-year-old sister and ran to a neighbor's house, where she became a key source for a SWAT team that soon arrived, providing information on the layout of the home, according to Seliger Swenson and 911 transcripts.
Taylor's two brothers, ages 8 and 10, were hiding inside the house.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office SWAT team stormed the dwelling and shot Steven Van Keuren, 46, Lee's ex-boyfriend whom she spent much of the past few months in fear of.
Washington County Sheriff Steve Pott said Friday Van Keuren underwent surgery at Regions Hospital and was expected to recover. Further information was unavailable on his condition Saturday. Washington County prosecutors are reviewing the case; Van Keuren had not been charged in connection with the deaths Saturday.
Pott said Friday investigators have 'no reason to believe' Van Keuren had any plan to physically harm the children.
Hawkinson was staying with Lee to protect her. Seliger Swenson said Lee kept her children home from school Thursday, and tried to gather photos of Van Keuren to distribute to their teachers, to warn them.
Van Keuren was free on $75,000 bail after being charged with breaking into Lee's house July 29 and trying to stab her, a butcher knife in each hand. The suspect had attacked Lee because he was despondent over their failed relationship and the loss of his job as a chemist at 3M, according to burglary and assault charges filed against him in Washington County.
Seliger Swenson said Lee told her she left messages with police and prosecutors Wednesday.
'Wednesday night, I had my last conversation with her,' Seliger Swenson said. 'I was in such disbelief that he actually showed up at Taylor's volleyball match. And I was trying to get inside his head: Why was he being so blatant in disregarding the order of protection. Why? She said, 'Vicki, he's going to kill me.' '
That Taylor would protect her younger sister is no surprise to Seliger Swenson. She said the girl takes after her mother.
'Teri was two years older than me, and growing up, we argued over clothes, we argued over the phone, but if somebody else messed with either one of us, we were going to stick up for each other,' said Seliger Swenson, of Minnetonka. 'We played sports at Tartan (High in Oakdale). I was always the youngest kid on the team, and she always looked out for me because she was my older sister.'
Tartan was also where Teri met and fell in love with Ty Bryant Lee, whom she later married. They had four children, and life was grand, her sister said. She stayed tight with her three best friends, but family always was first.
'She loved her husband fiercely and she loved her kids,' she said. 'She loved being a mother.' They treasured weekends at the family cabin on Big Marine Lake near Marine on St. Croix. The kids loved tubing and water skiing behind their boat, which Ty always piloted.
On the evening of Nov. 30, 2001, Ty's truck's suddenly accelerated as he was driving home from a friend's house through Mahtomedi. It left the road and slammed into a tree. He was wearing a seat belt and wasn't drinking. 'They figure he fell asleep,' Seliger Swenson said. He was killed at the scene. Taylor was the other occupant. She crawled from the wreckage and suffered no permanent physical injuries, Seliger Swanson said.
'After Ty died, Teri went out to the middle of that lake with her uncle and said 'Teach me how to drive this boat because my kids love it,' ' Seliger Swenson said. 'She was amazing.'
Lee had known Van Keuren from 3M, where they both worked, and the two started dating two years ago.
She tried to break it off, but, Seliger Swenson said, Van Keuren wouldn't accept it.
After he broke into the home in July, he was held on $75,000 bail. He was released Aug. 1 after a relative posted $7,500. He was ordered to have no contact with Lee and the children, according to court records.
'I don't get to pay $7,500 and get my sister back,' Seliger Swenson said.
The four children are now staying with relatives.
Nowhere to hide
When Teri Lee's life was threatened by an ex-boyfriend, she did everything
she could to protect herself and her children. Would anyone help?
By Hoda Kotb
Originally aired Dateline NBC on Aug. 13.
St. Paul, Minn. -
Teri Lee: He followed me home … You know, it's creepy to have someone following you home.
Her name is Teri Lee. She's a single mother of four, afraid and maybe a little embarrassed.
Click here for the rest of the story and video...
Extreme tragedy, makeover; Swenson and Lee family appear on home remodeling show
Stillwater Gazette - By ELLIOT MANN
(Created: Friday, August 24, 2007 5:30 PM CDT)
In January, Vicki Swenson described the "amazing village" that surrounds her family,
which aside from her husband Erik and their three children, also includes the four children of her late sister, Teri Lee.
Click here for rest of the story...
Slain woman's sister calls out for better law
©The Minneapolis-St. Paul Pioneer Press
March 15, 2007
The sister of a victim in September's West Lakeland Township double homicide told Minnesota lawmakers Thursday that the state could save lives if it changed how it handles restraining orders and domestic abuse cases.
Vicki Seliger Swenson said 38-year-old Teri Lee might have lived if the restraining order against her ex-boyfriend -- who's accused of murdering her -- had been clearer and contained a picture of him.
Seliger Swenson asked a Senate committee to approve a bill that would create one statewide electronic form for orders of protection and no-contact orders -- with photos attached -- and study the need for increased training of law enforcement officers on domestic violence.
She said the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Teri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, would help abused women protect themselves and help keep them from falling through the bureaucratic cracks as her sister did.
Teri Lee, she said, 'followed the system. She did everything right. And she's dead.'
Lee and her boyfriend, Timothy Hawkinson, were shot to death Sept. 22 in Lee's West Lakeland Township home. Former boyfriend Steven Van Keuren, of River Falls, Wis., has been charged with murder in the case.
At the time of the killings, Van Keuren was free on bail after being charged with breaking into Lee's house July 29 and trying to stab her. Before releasing him for that incident, a judge ordered him to have no contact with Lee or her family as a condition of his bail.
Lee had testified at that hearing that she felt physically threatened and that she feared he would return.
Despite the judge's warnings, Seliger Swenson said, Van Keuren violated that order twice.
The first time was Sept. 14, when Lee received an e-mail from Van Keuren's father's Internet account,
asking whether someone could pick up Van Keuren's belongings.
The second time was two days before the killings, when one of Lee's daughters spotted Van Keuren watching her volleyball game at Oltman Junior High School in St. Paul Park. He left by the time police arrived.
Seliger Swenson said her proposed changes might have prompted police to arrest Van Keuren quickly after either instance and keep him off the streets.
Sheriff's deputies did not arrest Van Keuren, she said, because the handwritten portion of the no-contact order did not specify whether indirect contact -- such as e-mail -- was considered a violation.
A standardized form prohibiting both direct and indirect contact would have given deputies the confidence to act, Seliger Swenson said.
After the Oltman volleyball game, she said, precious time was wasted while school personnel questioned Lee's daughter about who it was she had seen and why she was so distraught. They also spent time trying to track down Lee herself before calling 911.
Under the proposed bill, she said, her sister could have distributed a copy of the restraining order with Van Keuren's photo long beforehand, and school officials could have recognized the problem immediately.
With such a photo, she told lawmakers, 'I believe 911 would have been called sooner rather than later.'
As it was, she said, Lee had struggled in vain to find a copy of Van Keuren's photo to distribute. When she died, an old roll of film she had recently dug up -- and which she thought contained an image of him -- was lying on a counter in her house.
Bonoff's bill, she said, 'would help save lives A A... even if it's too late for my sister.'
Could Deputy Kyle Olson have stopped a killer?
Deputy Kyle Olson subdued an armed and desperate Steve Van Keuren without firing a shot. Now he wonders, what if?
BY ALEX FRIEDRICH
Article Last Updated: 11/29/2007
The hindsight that picks at Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Kyle Olson could drive a cop mad:
If he'd shot Steve Van Keuren dead during a pursuit in July 2006, the man never would have gone on to murder two people two months later.
The thought hits him from time to time. But it plagued him Sunday night, when he watched victim Teri Lee's family - her sister, nieces and her orphaned children - get a new house on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
It was a heart-wrenching show, and Olson couldn't stop watching.
"I would have laid down my life if I'd known it would save them," he said in an emotional phone call during the show. "What those kids have gone through. I'd give up anything to change those things."
Last month, the 37-year-old deputy received the Medal of Honor - the highest award in the sheriff's office - for his peaceful arrest of Van Keuren under dangerous circumstances. Olson's account of the arrest shows he was up against an unstable man with a violent temper.
Olson was on patrol the morning of July 29, 2006, when he was sent after Van Keuren.
He got a dispatch saying Van Keuren had just attacked his ex-girlfriend in her Ninth Street home in West Lakeland Township and was heading toward Wisconsin.
The deputy drove across the Interstate 94 bridge, where he spotted the maroon Corsica that matched the description of the car police were looking for. He checked in with dispatch and then followed with his lights and siren activated.
Van Keuren didn't speed away. Instead, he cruised along, stuck out his arm and signaled to Olson to follow him as he turned off the interstate.
That made Olson a bit nervous. Such behavior was unusual.
"I thought, 'This guy is going to force a standoff - some sort of suicide-by-cop thing,' " Olson recalled.
Also, Olson's radio wasn't working. He was out of his patrol area, and didn't know the Wisconsin roads.
They made their way to River Falls, where Van Keuren turned down a dirt driveway.
Olson recalled thinking, "Is this an ambush?"
Van Keuren finally pulled up outside a farmhouse. He got out of the car. In one hand was a big knife, in the other a gallon-size jug of a chemical, which turned out to be acetone, a flammable liquid.
"I knew it wasn't good," Olson said.
The deputy got out of the squad and drew his gun.
"Get on the ground!" he recalled yelling. "Get on the ground!"
Van Keuren froze. He looked at Olson.
"He definitely had the eyes," Olson said. "That desperate look. The eyes."
At that point, he added, everything "is unfolding in a second. I think, 'Do I shoot him?' "
Van Keuren turned around and made a beeline to the front door of the farmhouse.
Olson quickly exchanged his weapon for a Taser.
Van Keuren made it to the front door and disappeared inside.
Olson pursued, not knowing what lay behind the door.
"I thought, 'What am I getting into? Is there a shotgun on the other side?' "
The entranceway led into a kitchen, where Olson found Van Keuren standing behind an older man - possibly a hostage - seemingly using him for cover.
The deputy still had a Taser, but had his hand on his pistol, ready to draw it.
"Put the weapons down! Put the bottles down!" Olson yelled repeatedly to Van Keuren, who was dodging back and forth behind the man, apparently unsure what to do.
For moments, it was a standoff. But Van Keuren finally broke down. Sobbing, he gave up. Olson then learned the man was Van Keuren's father.
Other law enforcement officers soon arrived, and they took Van Keuren away.
At the hospital, Olson asked Van Keuren why he'd carried the knives and chemicals.
He recalls Van Keuren's reply: "I wanted you to think about it."
The way Olson interprets that statement, Van Keuren was trying to get the deputy to shoot him.
In the days after the arrest, Olson considered dropping by Teri Lee's house to reassure her that her ex-boyfriend was in jail and couldn't harm her.
In a way, he's glad he never did.
Van Keuren eventually made his $75,000 bail and got out - something Olson never learned of.
He allegedly violated a court order by stalking Lee's daughter at a school volleyball game on Sept. 20.
He was spotted, but through a series of procedural snags, law enforcement officials never pursued him over the border into Wisconsin.
Just two days later, Van Keuren broke into Lee's West Lakeland Township house in the early morning and shot her and her boyfriend dead.
That morning, Olson reported in for his regular shift. The department was buzzing that morning with all the work being done on the murders.
When Olson asked about the killings, another deputy told him: "It's your guy on Ninth Street."
THE RIGHT DECISION
One could argue that Olson would have been justified in shooting Van Keuren that day, considering the knives, explosive chemicals and Olson's thought that Van Keuren had a hostage.
And someone will occasionally tell him, "Ah, you should have shot him when you had the chance."
It frustrates Olson that the public doesn't understand the complexity of the situation and that he doesn't "have a crystal ball"
He stands by his decision. But he's not immune to doubts.
Those are feelings that law enforcement officials deal with on a regular basis, Sheriff Bill Hutton said.
"We can play those games forever - coulda-woulda-shoulda," he said "It doesn't do anybody any good."
Olson is "an exceptional deputy, very intelligent and intuitive," Hutton said. "He handled it the best way at that moment. No one should second-guess here."
Olson said he's trying not to, and has gone to counseling for help.
Still, he said, "I can't say it doesn't hurt. I'm not a robot."
Alex Friedrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-2109.
TIMELINE OF THE ATTACKS
July 29, 2006: Steve Van Keuren, 46, of River Falls, Wis., breaks into the West Lakeland Township home of former girlfriend Teri Lee, 38. He has a butcher knife in each hand and attacks her. Washington County deputy Kyle Olson arrests him in Wisconsin. Lee tells police she fears Van Keuren will kill her if he is freed on bail.
Aug. 1, 2006: Van Keuren is released on $75,000 bail and ordered to have no contact with Lee or her children
Sept. 22, 2006: Van Keuren breaks into Lee's home again and fatally shoots Lee and Tim Hawkinson Sr. Van Keuren is shot by officers and hospitalized.
Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Kyle Olson says that in the days after he arrested Steve Van Keuren in July 2006, he considered dropping by Teri Lee's house to reassure her that her ex-boyfriend was in jail and couldn't harm her. In a way, Olson says, he's glad he never did.