An out-of-state pickup truck driver crossed the center line of a northeastern Minnesota highway and crashed head-on into a car, killing an off-duty law-enforcement officer and his wife, a public school teacher, authorities said.

The crash occurred about 7:40 a.m. Thursday on Hwy. 53, about 25 miles south of International Falls, when the northbound pickup crossed into the path of the southbound car, according to the State Patrol.

Dead at the scene were the car's driver, Riley R. Burnell, 24, of International Falls, and his 23-year-old wife, Natasha R. Burnell, the patrol added.

Riley Burnell was a part-time officer with the Koochiching County Sheriff's Office as well as with the International Falls Police Department, said Sheriff's Capt. Bruce Grotberg.

Riley Burnell was "very conscientious," said the captain, who was his supervisor. "He was probably in line to be our next full-time officer."

International Falls Police Chief Mike Musich said Riley Burnell was "a very fine officer" who interned with his department in order to finish his degree at Bemidji State University before joining the force in December.

Natasha Burnell was an elementary substitute teacher for the Little Fork-Big Falls School District, said Principal Christopher Bachmeier.

"She did an outstanding job for us," Bachmeier said. "She was always smiling, a little quiet. ... The kids loved her, and a lot of teachers requested her to work. She had a bright future in front of her."

Said Bachmeier: "Our district does have a heavy heart right now. She also subbed in our high school at times, so she knew a lot of kids."

The pickup driver, Burton G. Pinchuk, 68, of Naperville, Ill., was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth with critical injuries, according to the patrol. His passenger, Glen A. Wegworth of McHenry, Ill., was taken to the same hospital and is expected to survive.

Grotberg said the two Illinois men were on a fishing trip, while the Burnells were heading to Duluth.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482