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Body found after apparent hit-and-run

BEMIDJI -- Police are investigating the death of a 25-year-old Bemidji man after a newspaper carrier found what authorities said was Christopher Lee Strong's dead body on an Eckles Township road early Wednesday.

Leona Steele, who has been delivering The Pioneer for more than a year, made the gruesome discovery just before 4:30 a.m. She immediately called police.

"He was laying on his right side with his back toward me," she said of Strong. "All I saw was -- I thought it was a red t-shirt but it was his back covered in blood."

A photo taken about 7:30 a.m. by another Pioneer employee showed investigators looking under a white sheet at Strong's body, the black soles of his shoes could be seen facing east.

Deputies with the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office and a trooper with the Minnesota State Patrol responded to the scene, at the intersection of Grange and Nature roads, after Steele called 911 at 4:24 a.m. Police found debris from what was described as a red car, Sheriff Phil Hodapp said, and are asking for the public's help not only in finding the vehicle, but the whereabouts of Strong in the previous 24 hours.

After calling police, Steele continued on her route, turning south on Eckles Road Northwest, where two residents are subscribed to The Pioneer. Upon returning to the intersection of Eckles and Grange roads, Steele saw another vehicle near the body, and was told by a 911 dispatcher a person in that vehicle would wait for police to arrive. Steele then went back to work, saying a previous roadside encounter prompted her decision to stay in her vehicle after finding Strong's body.

"I don't stop anymore," she said. "I (stopped) once before because I had a guy laying on the side of the road, and he tried to jump in my window."

The only markers of the what police say was a fatal collision later Wednesday morning were red evidence stickers flapping in the breeze. An employee at M&M Auto Recyclers, who did not wish to give his name, said no one was at the business around the time of the crash. The intersection of Grange and Nature roads represents the northwest corner of the business' lot.

About 45 minutes after informing police of her discovery, Steele was again near the intersection that marked Strong's death. This time, however, police had blocked the road in both directions and were conducting their investigation. Steele stopped and spoke to a sheriff's deputy.

"He said they figured it was a hit-and-run," she said. "Then I asked him if the person was alive and he said 'no, they're deceased.'"

Steele didn't seem shaken by the event when reached by phone Wednesday night, but admitted to the fear she felt during her grim, pre-dawn discovery.

"I'm a chicken when it comes to this stuff," she said.


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