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Local man leads double life as race car driver/bail bondsman

If you ever end up in the Grand Forks County clink and can't make bail -- and you don't want to share a cell with a guy named T-bird -- you're likely to call Dobmeier Bonding.

If you ever end up in the Grand Forks County clink and can't make bail -- and you don't want to share a cell with a guy named T-bird -- you're likely to call Dobmeier Bonding.

And the bondsman who comes to spring you just might be Mark Dobmeier, a local race car driver who dominates the sprint class at River Cities Speedway.

When Dobmeier's not racing or running his auto-repair shop, he moonlights as a bondsman for his dad's company in Grand Forks.

The job of a bondsman is to ensure that the people he bails out appear in court, Dobmeier says.

"As long as they show up, it's all just paperwork," he said. If they don't show up, the bondsman can pay the bond off and take a loss, or, he said, "you can go arrest the guy and then bring him back into jail."

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Bondsmen have the power to arrest anyone who's jumped bail on them. And unlike cops, they can kick down a door without a warrant.

In hunting down shady characters, Dobmeier says, he's found himself in more than a few heated situations.

"We've had guys that were about ready to run, but you kind of get them cornered and just get them pinned down right away before they can," he said.

So far, he's been able to maintain a pretty face. "No big punches thrown at me or anything yet."

There haven't been any gun battles either, but Dobmeier says he carries a concealed Glock just in case.

Dobmeier's dad, Mike, has been in the bonding business since 1972. He bought his company in 1978 from his dad, the first bondsman to set up shop in North Dakota.

In his days of rounding up fugitives, Mike said he's seen a donnybrook or two.

"I got a pair of broken glasses one time when I went to arrest a guy and ... his girlfriend's two young boys jumped on me," the 57-year-old Navy vet said.

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But generally, the father and son say their job isn't an action movie. Nor does it bear much resemblance to "Dog the Bounty Hunter," a TV show that features Duane "Dog" Chapman, a blond bondsman with a mullet, tats and a 'tude.

"There's a lot of hype out there. That's a reality show," Mike said, gesturing to put quotes around "reality."

When the Dobmeiers make an arrest, flare-ups are rare. It could be that no one wants to mess with these dudes, but it also could be that they take steps to avoid dramatics.

"Most the time ... we get the cops involved," Mark said. "We don't try to run under night and do it with just us."

"That way they know what's going on, so there's not a big uproar all of a sudden."

But the police aren't always right over their shoulders, Mark said. Typically, the cops are just somewhere in the vicinity of where he and his dad are making the arrest.

Mark's mom, Sandy, said she doesn't worry when her son and husband, who raced cars for 27 years, are chasing bail jumpers. "It's probably less dangerous than sprint-car driving," she pointed out.

Mark, 27, has been a licensed bondsman since he was a senior in high school. The job has taken him and his dad all over the region and, on occasion, clear across the country.

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Five years ago, the pair chased a bail jumper, who was facing drug charges, all the way to the Gulf Coast of Texas. They located the guy, cuffed his hands and ankles, and drove him back to Grand Forks.

The younger Dobmeier says the job has taught him volumes about human nature.

"You get to know how to judge people a lot and kind of read them a little bit," he said. "You get to hear their sob story."

Being a bondsman can also be rewarding "when you help somebody out, when you know there's a good person who just got in a bad position," Dobmeier said.

He's even come to the aid of some pals.

"I think I've bonded out half my senior class," he said.

Duty calls

When working a shift, the calls for bailouts come randomly, but the bulk come at night.

"Generally, people aren't raising hell in the middle of the day," Dobmeier said. "There are some nights where you don't get much sleep at all."

In the summer, during racing season, Dobmeier works only Monday nights. But occasionally, duty calls at inconvenient times.

Last year, on a night when Dobmeier was racing at the speedway, a prisoner called to get out of jail, but his dad and the other agents were out of town.

"Between the heat race and the feature, I ran over to the jail and bonded somebody out, then came back to the racetrack."

But there was no racing on the way to the county lockup.

"You're not like a cop," he said. "You can't go speeding through the streets or anything."

Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com .

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