The search will continue Sunday for Travis Benjamin, the 39-year-old who went missing after his Hummer went into the Mississippi River early Friday morning in Ramsey.
While authorities suspended dive searches Saturday citing the dangerous current, a dozen of Benjamin’s friends spent hours scanning the shoreline and combing the woods along the river for any sign of the Ramsey resident.
“We’re not giving up hope,” friend Jess Crassweller said. “If there’s any chance he got out of the water, we want to be there.”
Authorities have not yet identified Benjamin, an Atlanta native, but friends and family said Saturday that he’s the missing man.
Benjamin, an Atlanta native whose family said served in the Air Force before moving to the Twin Cities, disappeared after escaping his Hummer when it went in the river about three miles from his townhouse.
“It’s not believable,” his mother, Shirley Benjamin, said Saturday from her Georgia home before flying to Minnesota. “He’s my baby.”
Not long before he went missing, she said, they were texting back and forth as she teased her son about the snowy weather Thursday night. When he didn’t respond to a message, she assumed he was busy, out with friends, she said. It wasn’t until the next day that a call from a reporter alerted her to her son’s disappearance.
“[We’re] just praying and worrying,” she said, choking up Saturday.
Benjamin moved to the Twin Cities in 1997 after serving in the Air Force, where he was stationed for a time at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, his mother said. He attended St. Cloud State University, then the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he graduated with a degree in health care administration, friends say.
He worked for the state Department of Veterans Affairs for several years and had a passion, friends say, for Vikings football and all things outdoors — boating, fishing, golfing and camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Witnesses said he drove the Hummer through a residential yard shortly after 1:30 a.m. Friday, stopped briefly at the river’s edge and then drove into a shallow spot in the river near the 6100 block of Rivlyn Avenue — suggesting it may be have been intentional. Witnesses said Benjamin got out of the car, stood on the hood and dropped into the water before disappearing underwater.
“Everything’s not adding up,” Crassweller said. “Something’s missing.”
A 42-year-old man, who hasn’t yet been identified, was a passenger in the Hummer and was rescued by authorities, who said he appeared intoxicated. The man has since been released from a hospital, but friends say he doesn’t recall the incident.
The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office spent Friday searching in boats equipped with sonar, but suspended the search Saturday, saying conditions were too treacherous. Authorities, who presume that Benjamin is dead, will resume the search Sunday, expanding the scope of the search.
So will Benjamin’s friends and family.
“He’d do anything for his friends,” Crassweller said. “Everybody’s at a loss.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141