Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Bonacci-Koski convicted in death of Tower infant

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/20/18

VIRGINIA— A jury here took barely two hours last Thursday, Sept. 13, to return a guilty verdict that could send Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski, age 25, to prison for years for actions that allowed his …

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Bonacci-Koski convicted in death of Tower infant

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VIRGINIA— A jury here took barely two hours last Thursday, Sept. 13, to return a guilty verdict that could send Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski, age 25, to prison for years for actions that allowed his 11-month-old nephew to die in a house fire in Tower just over 13 months ago.

Firefighters found the 11-month-old boy, Bentley Joe Lewis Koski, unconscious and not breathing on the second floor of a smoke-filled residence, located at 813 North Third St., on Aug. 2, 2017. The next-door neighbor, Brad Matich, reported the fire and tried to enter the residence initially, but found the smoke too thick for safe entry. Matich, a firefighter himself, entered minutes later after responding with others on the fire department with appropriate protective gear.

The infant’s parents had left Bonacci-Koski in charge of the child while they spent a night away from home. Bonacci-Koski had left the infant alone in the early morning hours when the blaze broke out and he fled the scene after he returned to discover the house on fire. Firefighters had assumed no one was at home at the time and did not discover the infant, who was in an upstairs bedroom, until a search of the house after they had extinguished the first-floor blaze.

The jury found Bonacci-Koski guilty on charges of second-degree manslaughter and he was convicted as well on related charges of theft of a motor vehicle and possession of a controlled substance.

The jury convicted Bonacci-Koski shortly after two days of testimony in his jury trial concluded late last week. The trial included heart-rending testimony from the infant’s mother, Krista Swanson, as well as firefighters from both Tower and Breitung who had discovered the soot-covered child lying in his crib. Medical examiner Rebecca Asch-Kendrick confirmed that the child had soot in his airways, indicating that he was alive at the time the fire broke out. Kendrick ruled that the death was accidental and was caused by smoke inhalation.

The state Fire Marshal was unable to determine a cause of the fire, which appeared to have started in the kitchen.

Firefighters had responded to the scene about 7:45 a.m. and found smoke pouring out of a second-story window along with flames on the first floor. The advanced state of the fire suggests that the infant was likely already deceased by the time firefighters arrived. Even so, several Tower and Breitung firefighters testified that they would have reacted differently had they known the house was still occupied and they described their efforts to revive the child. After extinguishing the blaze, firefighters began a search of the residence and reported their discovery of the child’s body at about 8:45 a.m.

District Court Judge Gary Pagliacetti presided over the trial. He’ll pronounce sentencing for Bonacci-Koski on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

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