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US senator's son charged in crash that killed North Dakota deputy

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer's son was traveling over 100 mph and already had two flat tires when he slammed head-on into Deputy Paul Martin's squad car.
Sheriff's Deputy Paul Martin with his retired K9 Goliath.
Posted at 8:15 AM, Dec 08, 2023

The 42-year-old son of U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer was charged Thursday with manslaughter and fleeing an officer after a police pursuit ended in a crash that killed a North Dakota sheriff's deputy who had just laid a tire deflation device on the road and was taking cover behind his squad car, according to court documents.

Ian Cramer, of Bismarck, was traveling over 100 mph and already had two flat tires when he slammed head-on into Deputy Paul Martin's squad car on Wednesday, pushing it “directly into Martin’s person and launching him for about 100 feet,” according to charging documents. Martin, 53, was killed.

McLean County Sheriff's Office via AP

Ian Cramer is scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday on multiple felony counts including manslaughter, fleeing a police officer and reckless endangerment. Court records did not list an attorney for him, and Sen. Kevin Cramer declined an interview after charges were filed out of respect for Martin's family.

Earlier Thursday, Cramer released a statement saying: “We ask the public for prayers for the lost officer’s family and colleagues who serve us every day and are grateful for all they do for us.”

According to Bismarck police, Ian Cramer was driven by his mother to Sanford Health emergency room in Bismarck at around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday over concerns about his mental health. When she got out of the SUV, Cramer took the wheel and crashed through a door to get out of an enclosed ambulance bay at the hospital’s emergency department.

One of Sen. Kevin Cramer's daughters tracked the SUV through a cellphone and alerted authorities.

Over an hour later, a deputy in Mercer County spotted Cramer and the Chevrolet Tahoe in Hazen, a community about 70 miles northwest of Bismarck. The North Dakota Highway Patrol said in a news release that a chase then began.

Initial efforts to stop Cramer didn't work. Charging documents say an officer from nearby Beulah had used a tire deflation device, which flattened two of Cramer's tires, but he kept driving on North Dakota Highway 200. About 5 miles outside of Hazen, Beulah Chief of Police Frank Senn and Martin deployed more deflation devices and took cover behind their cars. Cramer swerved then hit Martin's vehicle.

Cramer allegedly started to run away after the crash. Senn subdued him on the ground and was injured as Cramer resisted, according to court documents.

Jack Dura / AP

Martin was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Cramer was evaluated at a hospital then jailed.

Ian Cramer's father, a first-term Republican senator, wrote that his son “suffers from serious mental disorders which manifest in severe paranoia and hallucinations.”

On Wednesday, Ian Cramer had insisted on “going to his brother Ike,” who died in 2018, according to the senator's statement, which doesn’t further explain what that means. Alarmed, Kris Cramer then took her son to the ER.

In 2013, Ian Cramer was charged with misdemeanor simple assault for allegedly injuring his brother’s head; he pleaded guilty. His record also includes a 2010 citation for driving under the influence in Arizona, and several traffic citations during this year and and last, including one as recent as the day before the crash, for driving with a suspended license.

Martin was an 18-year veteran of the sheriff's office, which said he was married and had three children.

In a post to the sheriff's office Facebook page, Mercer County Sheriff Terry Ternes said Martin “is our beloved brother in law enforcement, a husband, father, and grandpa. Our wound is raw, and our hearts are broken.”

Whitney Zeadow, 36, who lives near Hazen, said Martin was once her neighbor; she sometimes cared for the retired police dogs he kept when he was away from home.

“He was just a fantastic man,” Zeadow said, fighting back tears. "He was the type that would be your champion. He was just there to support the community, help the kids. Any little thing. He was just a joy to be around.”

Kevin Cramer was elected to the Senate in 2018 after serving three terms in the House. He has been a staunch advocate for law enforcement. He also has co-sponsored legislation to address shortages of mental health providers in schools and expand mental health care services for military families and veterans. Critics, however, say he has backed cuts that would put those with mental illness at risk of losing coverage.

In his statement Wednesday, Cramer said that his family grieves with “the family of the hero who tried to help Ian."