Over and over, the agitated bar patron tried to provoke a fight. First, he grabbed a man’s beer bottle off the bar and threw it against a wall. Then he flipped over the man’s cup.
Both times, the bar’s video surveillance revealed, Steven “Beaver” Hlinsky refused to take the bait. He remained unfazed and seated at the bar inside the Muddy Boot in his western Minnesota hometown of Forada.
But when a drinking buddy of the provocateur joined in and blew marijuana smoke in Hlinsky’s direction, the cool customer decided that was enough.
That decision cost the longtime small-town firefighter his life. Moments later, a beaten and bloodied Hlinsky was down on the sidewalk outside the bar, and four men fled the scene, according to police.
That video footage is a key piece of evidence against Troy N. Traut and Jacob E. Larson, who remained jailed Sunday on charges that they fatally beat Hlinsky, 46, on May 5 during what appears to have been a dispute over a romantic relationship.
Traut and Larson, both 33, were charged Friday in Douglas County District Court with first-degree manslaughter and fifth-degree assault in connection with the beating. Traut, of Alexandria, and Larson, of nearby Kensington, were arrested Friday night. Their initial court appearances have yet to be scheduled.
Hlinsky was hospitalized until May 11 and died two days later at his home. He suffered bleeding on the brain, broken facial and skull bones and a detached retina.
According to the charges, Traut, Larson and two others were at a table in the bar. Traut approached Hlinsky in “an aggressive or agitated manner.”
At one point, Traut grabbed a beer bottle in front of Hlinsky and tossed it against a wall. Traut later flipped over a cup in front of Hlinsky, the charges said.
Moments later, Larson approached Hlinsky, “lights what appears to be a marijuana pipe … then exhales and blows the smoke between Hlinsky and [a friend].”
As Hlinsky was escorting Larson to the door, Traut intervened and pulled Hlinsky by one arm out the door as Larson had him in a headlock.
The video did not capture the assault, and Traut and Larson both denied attacking Hlinsky that night.
Traut did acknowledge being suspicious about a romantic relationship he believed Hlinsky was having and argued with Hlinsky in the bar about that, the charges said.
The bartender told an investigator she heard Traut tell Hlinsky to take their issue outside.
Hlinsky was operating a fifth-generation grain farm south of Forada and was an assistant chief of the town’s Fire and Rescue unit.
Three members of his own rescue unit tended to him at the scene of the beating, and members were called again on May 13 to his home, where he was declared dead.
Along with son Dominic and daughter Abby, Hlinsky is survived by his mother, Dorothy, and brothers Allan and Jon.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482