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After northern Minnesota fire, infant victim identified, uncle arrested, family seeking answers

TOWER, Minn. - Bentley Joe Lewis Koski had two bottom teeth and four upper teeth.The 11-month-old baby would "take your knuckle and put it in his mouth and bite down. You'd go 'ouch,' and he'd laugh and do it again," said the boy's grandmother, P...

Bentley Joe Lewis Koski, 11 months old, of Tower was killed in a house fire at his home in Tower Wednesday morning. Clint Austin / Forum News Service
Bentley Joe Lewis Koski, 11 months old, of Tower was killed in a house fire at his home in Tower Wednesday morning. Clint Austin / Forum News Service
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TOWER, Minn. - Bentley Joe Lewis Koski had two bottom teeth and four upper teeth.

The 11-month-old baby would "take your knuckle and put it in his mouth and bite down. You'd go 'ouch,' and he'd laugh and do it again," said the boy's grandmother, Pam Swanson, smiling at the memory.

Swanson and her husband, John, were at home in Soudan on Thursday afternoon poring over pictures and watching videos of their only grandchild, who was killed in a house fire Wednesday morning in Tower.

The baby's uncle - 24-year-old Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski of Hibbing - is in custody following the fire. The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office said Thursday that he was arrested on probable cause of second-degree manslaughter, child neglect, auto theft, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Bentley was home alone at the time of the fire, the Swansons and police confirmed. His parents had left him in the care of Bonacci-Koski, who had babysat before, Pam Swanson said.

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The Breitung Police Department, which is handling the case, was still investigating the timeline and trying to determine how long the boy was left alone, Chief Jesse Anderson said Thursday evening.

"That's part of what we're still trying to figure out," he said. "That's one aspect of it."

Also under investigation was the cause of the fire - though authorities said it did not appear suspicious.

Bonacci-Koski was being held at the St. Louis County lockup facility at the Virginia courthouse, awaiting formal charges. Prosecutor Karl Sundquist said that he was expecting to receive police reports in time to make a charging decision Monday.

Bentley's parents, Krista Swanson and Cody Koski, were "fantastic parents. The baby meant the world to them. They loved him so much," Pam Swanson said. "This is devastating to our family."

The distraught grandparents said Bentley had just begun pulling himself up on furniture. He had a cherubic face, and gained the nickname "Bentley Boo" for his love of peek-a-boo games. John Swanson was looking forward to taking Bentley fishing when he grew older. He had all kinds of plans for his grandson, he said, who was a "good-natured" and happy baby who liked bathtime and liked to snuggle.

"Things will never be right again," he said.

The Swansons said they'd noted negative comments on social media about what happened, and said they were hurtful to the grieving family. The investigation isn't over, and they want answers as to how the tragedy happened as much as anyone else, Pam Swanson said.

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"I can't imagine why he left the house and left the baby home alone," John said. "Why would you leave the baby? We need answers."

Anderson said Bonacci-Koski was arrested by sheriff's deputies on Wednesday in a vehicle that was reported stolen out of Tower about two hours after the fire was reported.

A check of Minnesota court records shows that he has had extensive run-ins with the law dating back to at least 2011. He has felony convictions for second-degree assault and violating a harassment restraining order, with lesser offenses including drug possession, fleeing police, check forgery, assault and disorderly conduct.

Breitung police are leading the investigation, but receiving assistance from the sheriff's office and the State Fire Marshal's Office. For a police department with only two full-time officers, Anderson said the help of outside agencies has been crucial.

"You certainly don't expect this in a small town," Anderson said of the case.

The Swansons said they were thankful for the efforts of agencies that responded to the fire. Funeral arrangements for Bentley have not yet been planned.

Related Topics: FIRESCRIMETOWER
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