County dive teams have suspended their search for a Ramsey man who disappeared more than a week ago, but friends are still combing the shoreline and searching the Mississippi River for Travis Benjamin.
The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday that the case remains open, but the search was suspended Thursday night after surface and sonar efforts failed to find Benjamin’s body. The 39-year-old Atlanta native disappeared April 4 after his Hummer went into the river about 3 miles from his townhouse.
College friend Jess Crassweller has been searching for Benjamin the past nine days with a group of friends in duck hunting and fishing boats.
“It’s tough,” he said before returning to the river to search Saturday. “People are frustrated. They want resolution one way or another.”
Benjamin’s mother, Shirley Bak, said Saturday that rising water has made the river search dangerous. But the family, who flew to Minneapolis last week from their Atlanta-area home, said they’re grateful for the continued help not just from friends, but the many strangers, including veterans groups.
“It’s been a wonderful response from the community,” added her husband, Clemons Bak. “We are hopeful he’ll be found.”
Witnesses said Benjamin’s SUV went through a residential yard shortly after 1:30 a.m. April 4, avoiding any trees or a shed. The car stopped briefly at the river’s edge before driving into a shallow spot in the river near the 6100 block of Rivlyn Avenue — suggesting that entering the river may be have been intentional.
But his family says it was a tragic accident and Benjamin may have been disoriented.
He got out of the car, witnesses said, and stood on the hood before dropping into the water and disappearing. A 42-year-old man also in the Hummer was rescued from the water 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.
Since then, Crassweller said the water levels have risen, covering islands they had previously searched and making the river current stronger. They’re focusing their search, he said, on a 7-mile stretch of the river from Ramsey south to the Coon Rapids Dam.
“People are doing what they can,” he said.
Benjamin moved from the Atlanta area to the Twin Cities in 1997 after serving in the Air Force. He attended St. Cloud State University and earned a degree in health care administration from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. His family says he worked for the state Department of Veterans Affairs and had a passion for Vikings football and all things outdoors — boating, fishing, golfing and camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
His family said a military service will be planned once Benjamin is found.
“We’re anxious for a resolution,” Clemens Bak said. “As long as he’s missing, there’s no resolution.”