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Death investigation involving ‘town bully’ has Illinois resort town on edge

GALENA, Ill. – Some say they live in fear of the man charged after an Illinois resort town resident died following an altercation at a local gas station.

Several residents of Galena – an idyllic, historic town three hours northwest of Chicago – described the suspect, James (or Jim) Peters, as a violent town bully, according to WGN Investigates.

Galena, home to just 3,000 residents, is famous for its golf courses in the summer and skiing in winter. It’s also the historical home of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Galena is a touch of old-fashioned Americana with candy shops, ghost tours and knick knacks of every kind. Main Street is filled more with tourists than regulars. The days are slow. The pace is easy. Even the police take lunch breaks.

Yet, behind the beauty of this historic, picturesque, river-town, a woman is grieving the loss of her 57-year-old son, Brian Friede.

Beverly Friede is the victim’s mother. She spent six days at the hospital praying that her son would wake from a coma. He never did. The doctors came in telling her she was going to have to decide whether or not to remove he son from life support. According to Friede, it was an impossible decision, “You know I still think about that. Did I do the right thing? I still think about it.”

Brian Friede was the son who called his mom every night between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. With a mother’s instinct, Beverly knew something was off the night he ran into Peters. Her son hadn’t called when he usually did. By the time he did call, he told her he was tired and wanted to get home to his dog, but he never made it.

On May 3rd around 10 p.m., 57-year-old Brian Friede and 52-year-old Peters ended up at Murphy’s, a local gas station. Punches flew, police said, and Friede fell to the ground, hitting his head. Peters took off.

Lynn Richardson is Friede’s younger sister. That night she was listening to her scanner, never expecting to hear her brother’s name involved in a fight. She drove to the gas station to find out what happened. She said police would not let her see her brother, and they told her he was in “Very bad, very bad shape. Then they pointed out the puddle of blood that was there.”

No one in the Friede family understood what the fight was about. According to Beverly, “That’s the thing that bothers us so bad is we don’t know what the reason is. As far as we’re concerned he never had anything to do with that guy.”

Peters chalked it up to happenstance – wrong place at the wrong time. He said he stopped at the gas station on his way to get his 6-year-old daughter an ice cream cone at 9 o’clock that night. According to Peters, “It’s a school night. But I promised her. So we head up to McDonalds to get the ice cream cone, but the idiot that I am, instead of going to get the ice cream cone, I needed a pop. So I go up to Murphy’s to get a pop, so I get called over to a car.”

Peters said that once he got to the gas station, he was called over to see a friend in a nearby car. “I go over to his car. It was a guy I know, a guy with Brian Friede in the back seat, who I don’t know. I see the guy in the back seat, but again, I don’t know the guy. I seen him (Friede) 10 years ago. I seen him once. I met him once, 10 years ago. I’m leaning inside the car and all of a sudden I hear, ‘Remember me, motherf…’ I turn around, BOOM, he hits me.”

With Friede unable to tell his side of the story, his family say they are speaking out to give him a voice. Friede’s sister, Lynn said, “I didn’t even recognize him. I couldn’t even believe that was my brother laying there.”

Friede’s mom said Brian wasn’t the type to get into fights, “I never had to worry about him getting into fights.”

There is a video tape and audio tape of the deadly encounter, but prosecutors won’t release it pending the upcoming trial. Peters, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter, chose a judge – not a jury – to decide the case.

“There’s audio, there’s video, the guy, uh, attacked me," Peters said. "I didn’t attack anyone. I was getting April an ice cream cone. The guy was at the bar drinkin’ for hours.”

Its true that Friede was very drunk, according to the Coroner’s report his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

In another twist to the mystery, Friede and Peters tangled once before – nearly ten years ago, according to police reports. The family said Peters became jealous when his wife introduced herself to Friede. Lori remembered, “Jim got all upset and my brother went into the bathroom, Jim followed him in and beat him up in the bathroom.”

The townspeople remember how that case went – it was a similar story in which Friede lost the fight and Peters left before the cops arrived.

Yet, folks in Galena wonder, with Peters’ troubled history, why is he still on the street?

Resident Stacey Farrey admits she’s afraid of Peters, “Yeah I would say so. I think most people in town are. He kicked me in the stomach and I went flying across the room until I hit the wall on the other side.”

“He’s a bully," Farrey said. "I can’t think of any other bar he’s allowed in. He’s literally kind of kicked out of this town by the people because they don’t want to deal with him.”

Peters tells a different story saying, “Look at the size of me. What, how could I be a bully? I’m 165 pounds and 52 years old.”

Businessman Ivo Puidak said, “Mr. Peters decided he would threaten me and told me he’d love to catch me around when there was nobody around to deliver some justice to me.” According to Puidak, “We all say well nothing is going to happen until someone ends up getting killed. Well somebody died this time. What happened?”

Bartender Deb Beusse recalled, “I had one incident where I came in one night and he was giving this guy a hard time. Before I knew it punches are being thrown and tables were tossed. And it’s him.”

Friede's sister Lynn fears that the family may not get justice. “I think Jim has something on this judge. What I don’t know, but yeah. Yeah. He’s letting him off everything he’s gotten into. So yeah there is definitely something there. And everybody in town says the same thing.”

WGN found three decades worth of police and sheriff’s calls involving Peters – 12 calls for domestic abuse, 11 for assault, 27 for a host of charges like speeding, disturbing the peace, burglary, and drugs. Some calls resulted in arrests, and Peters served some jail time.

The police, the prosecutor, the judge and the owner of the gas station all refused to talk to WGN.

Peters faces the potential of five years in prison if convicted of the involuntary manslaughter. He is also charged with two counts of aggravated battery.