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Stepson of recent ND higher ed board chair fatally shot, man in custody

WILLISTON, N.D. — The stepson of Kathleen Neset, recent chairwoman of the State Board of Higher Education and a potential GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, was shot to death here.

Police took a 27-year-old Minot man into custody Friday morning, July 14, for the shooting death hours earlier of 43-year-old Vance Neset of Williston.

“The family is absolutely shocked,” Kathleen Neset said. “He was just a wonderful, fun-loving guy. Everybody loved Vance.”

Vance Neset worked for Kathleen Neset’s oil consulting firm, Neset Consulting, as a shop hand and gas technician, she said.

“Big guy and a heart of gold,” she added.

Neset recently has been mentioned as a possible Republican challenger for the Senate seat held by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who will be up for re-election next year if she chooses to run again.

An affidavit of probable cause filed Friday said Neset and another man were talking in the north parking lot of the Super 8 motel on Second Avenue West when 27-year-old Alex Eggleston of Minot approached the pair and began asking them for alcohol and cigarettes.

The man told police that he and Neset told Eggleston to leave them alone, that Eggleston left and that Eggleston came back holding a pistol that he pointed at Neset and shot him, according to charging documents.

Eggleston fled, police said, and the man with Neset called 911 to report the shooting. Neset was taken to CHI St. Alexius Hospital, where he died.

Police recovered five spent shell casings from the scene, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Eggleston was staying at the Super 8 and after he was arrested, police found a box of ammunition in his room that matched the shell casings that were found at the scene, according to the charging documents. Police also found a box for a pistol in a pickup truck registered in Eggleston’s name, charging documents say.

The gun has not been recovered, according to Lt. Detective Jacob Gregory of the Williston police. He said police have been searching for it, and asked parents, especially those with young children, to be vigilant, because the gun could have been thrown into a backyard.

On Friday morning, law enforcement had a section of the parking lot between Quinn's Bar and Grill and the Super 8 Motel blocked off, along with a portion of the street and part of the parking lot by DK’s Lounge and Casino. Multiple agencies were involved in the investigation, according to the release, including including the Bureau of Criminal Investigations, Williams County Sheriff’s Office, Northwest Task Force, and the Williams County SORT team.

Eggleston has been arrested several times, with charges dating back a decade, according to court records.

In September 2007, when he was 17, Eggleston robbed a store in Minot, and was charged with robbery and possession of a short-barreled shotgun.

Eggleston pleaded guilty in January 2008 to the robbery charge in Northcentral District Court, and the gun charge was dismissed. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with six years suspended.

In April 2016, Eggleston wrote a letter to Judge Richard Hagar, who had handled his case, asking for the then nearly nine-year-old case to be sealed. He told Hagar that he had graduated from Bismarck State College in 2011 and had been working in the computer support field, but his conviction made it difficult for him to find work.

“I have created some employment opportunities for myself by choosing to lie on an application to get employment,” Eggleston wrote. “I have had little success doing things that way and have been terminated from several jobs for that reason. In contrast, I have had even less success by being truthful about my criminal past.”

Shortly after, Hagar wrote back, telling Eggleston there was no way to seal the case.

In 2014, Eggleston pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance by a driver and was fined $500. He has two open cases in Ward County — a charge of assault on an emergency worker from May 2016 and a theft charge from December 2016. The former has been delayed three times and is now scheduled for trial in October, and the latter charge is scheduled to go to trial in August.

Neset’s body was taken to the State Medical Examiner for an autopsy and the investigation into his death is ongoing, Nickoloff said.

Police were interviewing Eggleston and the results of that, along with the results of search warrants being served by police, would be forwarded to the Williams County State’s Attorney’s office to determine charges.

Eggleston is being held in the Williams County jail. A bond hearing has not been scheduled.

Prior to Friday, the most recent shooting death in Williston came in May 2016, when two men were shot in an apartment. Lamar Putney was arrested several months later and charged with two counts of murder. His trial is scheduled for September.

Kelly is the editor of the Williston Herald

A previous version of this story didn't include Alex Eggleston's first name.