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CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette  

Doug Champlin injects his brisket as his cousin’s husband Jay Gerlich of Panora watches Champlin preps his meats for the Up in Smoke BBQ Bash competition Saturday at East Park in Mason City.

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With focus on BBQ, balloon crash survivor returns for Mason City Bash

MASON CITY — Doug Champlin’s wife was relieved when he traded ballooning for barbecue competitions.

In the five years since he took up the sport, Judi Champlin considers it a much safer hobby for a man involved nearly nine years ago as part of a fatal balloon crash near Coulter.

For the Albuquerque couple, each return to North Iowa is a welcome and emotional chance to reunite with folks who embraced them when Doug became the lone survivor of that balloon crash in November 2007.

Champlin, a retired engineer for Intel Corp. in Albuquerque, was born in Mason City and lived in Clear Lake until he was 5.

His team — DJ’s Smokin’ BBQ, including his wife and daughter Tracy — will be completing for the first time this year in the Up In Smoke BBQ Bash competition in East Park.

En route on a flight from Greeley, Colorado, the helium balloon struck a power line near Coulter, severing the cables attached to the basket and plunging the gondola 60 to 65 feet to the ground.

Champlin’s companions, Thomas Boyland, 62, of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Bradley Brookhart, 37, of Littleton, Colorado, were killed on impact.

“I do remember hearing very clearly the ping! ping! of the ropes snapping as they let go and the sudden rush of the basket falling, but I don’t remember the impact of the basket hitting or of me being bounced around,” he told the Globe Gazette in 2008.

Champlin broke his right femur in two places, fractured his left ankle, his left knee, left wrist and suffered multiple pelvic fractures. He also fractured some vertebrae in the accident.

“It’s just a miracle that anybody survived,” farmer Jon Korth said after the crash. He owned the field where the balloon crashed and rushed to the site.

“If those farmers weren’t down there working the fields and were able to get help to us right away, I’m not sure how long we would have laid out there,” Champlin said on Friday.

Judi spent Thanksgiving that year on the Korth’s farm. In the years since, Champlin and his wife have remained close to the Korths.

In the month after the crash, when Champlin was hospitalized at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, the outpouring from the community was “overwhelming,” said Judi.

That Christmas, she and her daughter bought him Superman pajamas to mark his survival.

After a long rehabilitation, Doug went up again in a hot air balloon in June 2008.

The couple decided to redecorate their Albuquerque home and repainted some walls turquoise.

“We decided since Doug lived that we were going to completely change our lives,” she said while thumbing through a scrapbook detailing his recovery. “Our walls went really bright and we redid the whole house.”

“We thought, ‘Well, we’ve got a new lease on life, so we’ll just make things brighter.’”

In 2011, Champlin sold his hot air balloon and began to take classes on barbecuing.

About two years ago, he decided to convert his late father-in-law’s 1954 DeSoto to carry multiple smokers in the vehicle.

The original plan was to restore it for classic car shows. But the $65,000 to $70,000 price tag made him look for other options.

He was inspired after his wife watched an episode of “Bubba-Q” on the Food Network featuring a car that had been set up to carry multiple smokers to do the same.

He estimates he’s spent $35,000 converting it for barbecue, where he smokes brisket and ribs from the trunk and smaller pieces in a smoker sitting in the back seat.

“During rain or wind I can close the doors and it doesn’t affect the smokers at all,” he said.

It’s a fun hobby where they can travel to 15 to 20 competitions per year while socializing on the circuit.

“I was happy, because, I mean I always trusted him,” she said. “But I’m glad he’s in barbecue. It’s a lot safer.”

“To me, at least he’s on the ground,” she said.

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Mason City man to get chance at parole in murder case


MASON CITY — A Mason City man convicted of shooting a man to death during a home robbery when he was a juvenile will have a chance at parole.

District Court Judge James Drew signed an order Thursday amending Damion Seats’ sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Seats’ original sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole, but that sentence has been ruled unconstitutional for juveniles, Drew wrote in his order.

Seats, now 25, received his sentence after being found guilty by a Cerro Gordo County jury in 2009 of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Iowa law required judges to sentence those convicted of Class A felonies to life in prison without parole.

Seats shot Isidoro Erreguin to death at a residence on North Adams Avenue in Mason City in 2008. Seats was 17 at the time.

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that requiring life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles was cruel and unusual punishment.

After that ruling Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences for Iowans previously sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed while they were juveniles — including Seats — to a minimum term of 60 years.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that commutation was unconstitutional, Drew’s order stated.

Both the state and the defense agreed no re-sentencing hearing is necessary and Seats’ sentence must be amended, according to the order.

Seats was to have a re-sentencing hearing on May 31 in Cerro Gordo County District Court but it was postponed.

Part of the reason for the delay was an anticipated Iowa Supreme Court ruling in another case involving a juvenile.

Drew told the Globe Gazette in May that the anticipated decision he was referring to was in the case of Isaiah Sweet, who was 17 when he killed his custodial grandparents at their home in Manchester in 2012 and received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On May 27 the Iowa Supreme Court made a 4-3 ruling in the Sweet case banning judges from imposing that sentence for juveniles conducted of first-degree murder.

That ruling stated it should be up to parole boards, not judges, if those who committed crimes as juveniles are beyond rehabilitation and should spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Arian Schuessler / File photo  

Damion Seats testifies during a 2013 court proceeding. A judge ruled Thursday that Seats, 25, will have a chance for parole after being convicted of first-degree murder in 2009. The crime took place when Seats was still a juvenile.


J. Scott Applewhite 


Latham to challenge Urdahl for Cerro Gordo County supervisor

MASON CITY — Mason City businessman Tim Latham will run against incumbent District 1 Supervisor Jay Urdahl in the general election in November.

Latham, 60, was nominated by county Republicans at a meeting Thursday night. No Republican had filed for candidacy by the filing deadline earlier this year.

Urdahl, a Democrat who is seeking his eighth term on the Board of Supervisors, was unopposed in the June primary election.

Latham ran for a Mason City Council position in 2011 and lost to John Lee.

He owns Furniture/Mattress Outlet and Latham Rental Properties, and co-owns Hildebrand Realty and the Main Even.

Latham is co-founder of the North End Partnership, a non-profit citizens group, and served as head of the citizens task force studying the feasibility of a multipurpose center in Mason City.

In 1994, the Mason City Chamber of Commerce named him its Small-Business Person of the Year.

“I’m a firm believer you need change,” said Latham. “Jay’s been in there a long time. I have nothing against him. I’ve known him all my life. We grew up together on the North End. But no one should run unopposed.

“Things have been kind of stale with the county. When I get involved in things, I get things done. I feel like I push the right buttons.”

Latham is married and has five children and 10 grandchildren. He lives in Mason City.

District 1 includes the Mason South/BathTownship precinct, Mason City First Ward, precincts 1 and 2, all precincts in the Second Ward and Fourth Ward, Precinct 3 in Mason City.


Flight from the fairgrounds