Born and raised a firefighter; Josh Steeves did what comes naturally–he responded to an emergency
Since he was a little boy, Josh Steeves has lived an “emergency” lifestyle.
When the son of Pelican Rapids Fire Chief Trevor Steeves received the alert of an abduction July 22 in rural Fergus Falls-Elizabeth area, he did what comes naturally.
He hopped in his vehicle with wife Kellsey and took to the road–to see if there was any way they could help.
And help they did.
It was Josh and Kellsey who first spotted the truck driven by suspected kidnapper and rapist Anthony Dale Randklev–at an abandoned farmstead about ten miles east of Erhard.
“I think it’s almost a natural response…Not standing back, an urge to help,” said Steeves, an eight year member of the Pelican Volunteer Fire Department–whose early memories are his dad responding to emergencies, when Josh was only four. “I don’t know anything else. I’ve been around it my whole life.”
Otter Tail County Sheriff’s department administrative lieutenant Keith Van Dyke was highly complimentary of the Steeves.
“It is yet another thing we ask these guys and gals to do…The run on car accidents, fires, medicals and they help with search and rescue. It’s amazing how much they do.”
After information on the vehicle and description of the suspect was dispatched at 4:10 p.m. July 22, they drove south and east of Pelican.
“Never in a billion years did we think we would be the ones who actually came across the suspect,” said Kellsey.
Authorities are describing the Steeves as heroes. They certainly don’t see it that way; and are very modest about their role.
But it also doesn’t escape them that–had they not encountered the suspect at about 4:30 p.m.–the terrible crime could have become a murder.
“It has crossed our mind that, maybe we spooked him,” which may have prompted the suspect to leave the abandoned house with the suspect alive. “We’ll never know,” Kellsey added.
Lt. Van Dyke agreed: “Who knows what the suspect’s next step was. How long could it have gone on? What state of mind was he in? What if he (the suspect) started to get desperate?”
East of Erhard, they spotted a “flash of silver” which turned out to be a tailgate, obscured; tucked in behind shrubs and a building.
“We looked at each other” and almost in unison, they said to one another “did you see that?”
They turned and doubled back. The silver gray truck, initially identified as a Dodge Dakota but actually a GMC, ended up traveling north on County Road 3–with the Steeves not far behind.
“We saw him constantly checking in his rear view mirror,” said Kellsey. They didn’t at that time spot the victim, who was apparently slouched out of view in the passenger seat.
When County 3 led to Highway 59, the suspect’s truck took the ditch to get around a pair of vehicles ahead, waiting at the stop sign to access the highway.
It was obvious the suspect knew somebody was following him. The Steeves were able to get in line behind him, and stayed behind him into Pelican Rapids. Nearly all the while, the Steeves were in contact with the dispatcher at the Otter Tail County law enforcement center.
The truck pulled into the Southtown Convenience store, where the suspect filled the tank with $40 in gas–which he didn’t pay for.
The Steeves parked near Larry’s market and Minnesota National Bank and observed. It was at that point Josh and the suspect made clear eye contact.
“It was like time stood still,” recalled Josh. “It was very creepy.”
That was also the moment that Kellsey caught a glimpse of the victim, in the passenger side of the truck.
A Pelican Rapids squad car had already pulled in to survey the situation, by the baseball diamond across from the Southtown store.
Moments later, Otter Tail squad cars arrived.
Thus began the pursuit, with the suspect driving first north into Pelican, and then circling back around the firehall before getting back on Highway 59.
The high speed chase initially led to a rural residential driveway, where the suspect turned around and managed to get past the squad cars and back on to Highway 59.
Finally, the chase ended in a field across the highway from Roadside Salvage, south of Erhard.
Ironically, Josh Steeves and units from the Pelican fire department were then calledto the scene, about 5:15, in the event that the overheated vehicle might spark a fire in the dry field. Josh Steeves was, in effect, called in for his “second shift” on the kidnapping case.
With adrenaline pumping through the whole ordeal, neither Josh nor Kellsey said they were afraid–at the time.
But they haven’t slept well–if at all–for several nights afterward.
They insist that “this isn’t about us.”
“But maybe we can send a message that, if two random people can make a difference in a situation like this, others can too,” said Kellsey.
“You don’t have to be an FBI agent to help” during a crime or incident, said Josh. “She’s (the victim) safe, and we’re elated,” said Kellsey.
In their relationship, Kellsey is sometimes frustrated with Josh–the firefighter always ready to respond–because he is constantly listening to his telecommunications pager, on alert for emergencies.
“The pager is always on, 24/7,” said Kellsey. “But I’ll never, ever criticize him again.”