Danny Dimm, who fought to get custody back of his son, dies in logging accident
In early August, Danny Dimm received some of the best news of his life. His son, missing for two months, had been found. Dimm left his Canadian home, flew to South Dakota and two days later was reunited with his boy, Timber.
On Monday, though, Dimm died in a tragic accident in the Canadian wilderness.
For years, Timber and his mother Wendi Bartell Dimm lived in Hastings. Their story received national attention this summer when Wendi fled with Timber in June. Danny had come to Hastings to pick Timber up, and he was nowhere to be found. A search was begun and two months later, Wendi and Timber were found in a women's shelter near Lemmon, S.D.
Danny arrived there, was granted full custody of Timber, then flew back to Canada with him to begin their lives together. Danny's sister Jewel Juriansz came to his home in Lillooet, B.C., near Vancouver, to help him raise Timber.
This week, Danny was working to remove some trees from a property for a homeowner. A tree fell, hitting a nearby vehicle. The vehicle toppled over and crushed Danny.
Just a few hours later, his sister Jewel was on the phone calling to Hastings. She was reaching out to his longtime attorney, Theresa Gerlach, who was out of the office. Jewel left a message for Gerlach with her staff, who then called Gerlach immediately.
The news was devastating for her.
"I was in denial," she said. "I couldn't believe it."
Jewel and Danny had always been close. When Danny got Timber back, she moved from Toronto to Lillooet to help Danny.
"My world right now is confused and busy with things I wish I didn't have to do," she said. "Danny was a simple honest man of great integrity. His love for his son was paramount. He took life as it came and often reminded me when I was fussing about something that it 'is a waste of a good worry.'
"He was intelligent, quick thinking, always seeing an improved way of doing things. Always saw the opportunity for a story. And always made time for friends. He was very 'bush smart' and I am shocked that it would be a logging accident that would take him from us.
"He had an overwhelmingly hard climb in fulfilling the desire to be actively involved in Timber's life. But things were just beginning to fall into place. It just leaves me with so many questions."
In about 2008, Gerlach was contacted by Danny Dimm. He was going through a divorce with Wendi and needed representation here. He wanted custody of his son, or at least court-ordered visitation. She began representing him and the two became friends.
"The guy was just salt of the earth," she said. "He was as good as gold. As a family law attorney, sometimes you do get to be friends with your clients over the years - especially clients like him. He always had Timber as his No. 1 priority. It showed.
"He really fought for Timber."
In June, when Danny had arrived in Hastings to pick up Timber for the summer, he ended up spending a fair amount of time with Gerlach and her family as he waited for his son to be found. He spent Sunday, June 19, with the Gerlach family as they celebrated Father's Day. For Danny, it had to be a hard day, Gerlach said, not knowing if his son was safe. The day, in a cruel twist of fate, was also Timber's fifth birthday.
Still, Gerlach said, Danny did what he could to enjoy the day with the Gerlachs here in Hastings.
"He didn't know if he'd ever see his son again," she said. "I can't imagine what he was going through. He just handled it so well. He still was able to keep up his spirits for everyone. He had every right to close himself off and to be alone that day, not knowing what was happening with Timber. He joined my family in our celebration and had a good attitude. That's Danny."
Danny eventually flew back to Canada and waited for word to come on Timber. Finally, in early August, Gerlach learned he had been found safe. She called Danny, one of the best calls she's ever made.
"It was just so nice to see the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders, knowing Timber was at least safe," she said.
Danny flew here and Jewel, his sister, began looking for a flight from Toronto. She eventually ended up flying in to the airport in Minneapolis. Gerlach and her husband picked Jewel up at the airport and drove her to South Dakota to meet up with Danny.
It was the last time Gerlach would ever see him.
On Wednesday, she flew to Canada to be with his family and to attend his funeral, scheduled for later this week. Lilloeet is a small town of about 2,500 people.
"I have to say, that small town, they're all just rallying around Timber," she said. "Everyone knows Danny. They're all just trying to maintain some normalcy for Timber."
The question on everyone's minds is: What will happen to Timber?
The answer to that question isn't known yet, and probably won't be known for some time. For now, he is in the custody of his aunt Jewel.
Timber's mother Wendi is still in jail. Her trial is set to begin this winter. She was charged in June with a felony for depriving Danny of his parental rights.
Further complicating matters is the fact that there are international boundaries at play here. To Gerlach, it appears as though the Canadian courts would have jurisdiction of the matter. Danny was granted full custody of Timber in June and Timber was born in Canada.
"The court will have to look at what is in the best interest of the child," she said. "I would certainly argue his mom has some serious issues that need to be addressed before she can be trusted to parent appropriately.
"Timber is in good hands with his aunt Jewel. The rest remains to be seen."
Meanwhile, Gerlach and the town of Lillooet are preparing for a funeral this weekend.
"Danny was really special," she said. "To know him was to love him. I know that's a cliché, but it holds true for this guy."