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Deputy awarded for efforts in shooting investigation

Washington County sheriff's detective Greg Reiter was named deputy of the year by the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association. Staff photo by Scott Wente.

Greg Reiter remembers the short telephone call that led to a long investigation.

"I got the call at home: 'Hey, we got a shooting,'" Reiter remembered being told more than six years ago.

It was the night of May 28, 2003. A Lake Elmo woman was shot multiple times in an attempted car-jacking. Another woman stopped to help. She, too, became a victim when the suspect stole her vehicle.

Reiter was a new detective with the Washington County Sheriff's Office, but knew Lake Elmo from his patrol days. He and other detectives responded.

The shooting was part of a two-state crime spree that continued in Hudson, Wis., where the suspect held up an armored vehicle, took thousands of dollars in cash and torched his getaway vehicle before eluding authorities for about five years.

Persistent detective work led by Reiter on the Minnesota side - and luck - resulted in criminal convictions in each state this year.

"I worked the case from the crime scene that night all the way through to the end," Reiter recalled.

For those efforts, Reiter was named sheriff's deputy of the year by the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association. Deputies from all 87 counties are eligible for the award. He was recognized this week at a law enforcement convention.

"This is the type of officer that is very diligent in his duties and efforts to solve the case, (and has) the tenacity to keep working on it even though it appears everything is at a complete dead end," said Jim Franklin, Minnesota Sheriffs' Association executive director. "And the attitude, if you will, of never giving up."

'Bigger cases' intrigue him

A Shoreview, Minn., native, Reiter patrolled Lake Elmo for five years before he was promoted to investigations. He had been a detective only a few months at the time of the Julie Bever shooting case, as it came to be known.

"It was something I was interested in, to kind of work on bigger cases and see them through to the end," the 37-year-old of said his interest in investigations.

This would be his biggest case yet.

At dusk that spring night, Bever was stopped at the Lake Elmo intersection of Inwood Avenue and 15th Street, just north of I-94, when a man emerged from a nearby ditch and demanded her vehicle at gunpoint.

Bever was shot four times, including in the face, when she tried to get away. The suspect then stole a vehicle belonging to a woman who stopped to help Bever, who was seriously injured but did recover.

The only evidence left behind were handgun shell casings.

The next day a man robbed an armored car at Citizens State Bank of Hudson. He burned one getaway car and fled in another with about $238,000 in cash. Like in Lake Elmo, there was little evidence left behind in Hudson.

The shooter was Zachary Wiegand, a 1995 Hudson High School graduate and son of a retired cop. Wiegand's only rap sheet entry was an outstanding warrant for retail theft.

It would take several years to identify Wiegand, but immediately the two cases were linked. Reiter and other Minnesota officers began to work with their counterparts across the border.

Evidence and solid leads were scarce. After several months, the Lake Elmo case went cold.

"We would have the case file right there on our desk, work on it, look at things," he said. "It wasn't like in the movies where it's put in the dungeon. It was at our desk."

Reiter turned to other investigations for the next five years.

Tracing 'fingerprints'

During an unrelated traffic stop in May 2008, Minneapolis police recovered a handgun in the vehicle. The serial number on the Smith & Wesson .9 mm pistol was scratched off.

Authorities conducted a ballistics test to identify random markings inside the gun barrel. Reiter said those imperfections are a gun's "fingerprints," which authorities enter into a database to help solve crimes.

In this case, markings pointed to the shell casings left at the Lake Elmo crime scene five years earlier.

"After they got a match, they called me right away," Reiter said.

That lead jumpstarted the investigation. The BCA report contained about 10 possible serial numbers, and Reiter said with Smith & Wesson's help he narrowed that down to one serial number. It was traced to a Hudson gun shop, where Wiegand reportedly bought it before his May 2003 crimes.

Over several weeks Reiter and Hudson detective Jeff Knopps sat next to each other in a Hudson office and pieced together the case.

"He's a great person," Knopps said of Reiter. "Probably one of the most dedicated law enforcement officers that I know. Very diligent and concise with his work and his ethics, and he's out to do what is right for the department and society as a whole."

The detectives located Wiegand. He was living a mostly quiet life in Dresser, Wis. Authorities say he spent the stolen money in a variety of ways. He bought food, offered generous restaurant tips, bought cars, went to spas and took short vacations, including to Minnesota's North Shore. He was arrested in October 2008.

"He was under the radar for so many years and without that gun, I don't think we would have cracked it," Reiter said.

Wiegand received a nearly 13-year prison sentence in Minnesota for the Lake Elmo crimes and an additional 25 years in Wisconsin for the armed robbery and arson. His wife faces criminal charges in Wisconsin.

Award a compliment

Reiter said he was surprised to learn he was being recognized for his work.

"If you would have told me a year ago or when we solved this case, I wouldn't have expected it or anything like that," he said. "It's a real privilege and an honor to get this."

Sheriff Bill Hutton said Reiter "went the extra mile in following up on the lead."

"It's a huge compliment," Hutton said.

The Lake Elmo case behind him, Reiter has moved on to new investigations. Another big case has crossed his desk: A homicide last month in Lakeland Shores, where a man was found dead inside a truck.

"As detectives, we're hopeful on every case," Reiter said. "We always like to keep the hope. We don't like to give up at all."