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Published October 05 2011

Farmers come to friend’s aid in manhunt

TOWER CITY, N.D. – John Dimmer and his brother had plans Wednesday to till the soybean fields they had just finished harvesting the day before, but a phone call from a friend in need quickly changed that.

By afternoon, two of their grain trucks were lined up with several others beside a cornfield being harvested as authorities tried to flush out a registered high-risk sex offender hiding in the field.

Dimmer said he didn’t have to think long about whether to help Dennis and Adele Smith, the field’s owners and his friends of more than 20 years.

“It’s just the way it works around here,” said Dimmer, who lives about 10 miles away near Oriska.

After a Barnes County deputy confronted escaped prisoner Joseph Megna in one of the Smiths’ outbuildings and Megna fled into the cornfield, authorities asked the Smiths if they would consider harvesting the corn to help catch the convict.

By late morning, the Smiths had lined up six combines (a total of nine eventually showed up), 16 trucks and a small army of tractors with grain carts to tackle the cornfield.

The couple said they weren’t surprised neighbors answered the call for help.

“That’s the pleasure of a small town,” Adele Smith said.

Dennis Smith rents the house on the farmstead to his parents, who were in Arizona at the time. He opened up the two-stall garage for authorities to use as a command center.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, the Smiths and others kept things light with a bit of farm humor. Smith joked that he planned the whole thing to get others to harvest his corn. Cass County Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson cracked that it was “our version of Farm Aid.”

And, in true farmer fashion, the Smiths offered drinks and goodies to their police and media guests.

After Megna surrendered, Dennis Smith said he believed the manhunt turned out well “for everybody involved,” including his fellow farmers, whom he thanked.

“It’s just unbelievable how everybody gets after it and gets it done,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528