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Man crashes into 2 Bemidji businesses during police chase

A driver in the midst of a mental health episode drove his van into two Bemidji businesses on Tuesday before being arrested.

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A driver in the midst of a mental health crisis drove his Dodge Caravan into the front entrance of the Paul Bunyan Mall on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Bemidji.
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BEMIDJI — A driver in the midst of a mental health episode drove his van into two Bemidji businesses on Tuesday before being arrested.

According to a release from Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin, at around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15, Beltrami County Dispatch received a 911 call from an individual who indicated that he was having a mental health breakdown and was currently driving a black Dodge Caravan. Dispatch was able to determine that he was in the area of the Sanford Walk-in Clinic on Anne Street.

Bemidji police officers were able to locate and identify the individual as 25-year-old Damian Smith of Bemidji. During the conversation, he backed the van into the doors of the walk-in clinic and then drove out of the parking lot, eastbound on Anne Street, the release said.

Law enforcement began to pursue the vehicle with emergency lights and sirens activated. Smith continued to drive east on Anne Street and then south on Irvine Avenue. Near 24th Street Northwest officers were able to set up Stop Stix, which deflated the front and rear driver’s side tires, the release said.

The driver continued to flee officers westbound on Paul Bunyan Drive at speeds near 50 mph. At the entrance of the Paul Bunyan Mall parking lot, the fleeing vehicle collided with a 2019 Mitsubishi SUV.

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Smith's vehicle then continued into the parking lot and rammed into the main entrance doors of the Paul Bunyan Mall. Smith was then taken into custody and transported to Sanford Bemidji Medical Center for a mental health evaluation before being transported to the Beltrami County Jail and booked on numerous charges, the release concluded.

Smith was previously convicted of first-degree arson in 2018 in addition to ineligible firearms possession and DWI among other criminal records dating back to 2015.

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