A western Wisconsin sheriff’s deputy will be eulogized 23 years to the day after a gunman’s bullets killed his partner and left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Michael J. Seversen had “some severe medical issues” lately and because of his lingering injuries was “not stable enough for major surgery” that could have kept him alive, Polk County Sheriff Peter Johnson said.
“Deputy Seversen’s death is classified as a line-of-duty death,” Johnson said Wednesday, meaning that the 50-year-old who died Monday in his hometown of St. Croix Falls will receive a funeral with full law enforcement honors. It will take place at Seversen’s alma mater, St. Croix High School, on Saturday, the 23rd anniversary of the shootout.
Johnson said he’s expecting “hundreds of squads” from across Wisconsin and many states, along with “several hundred, if not thousands” of members of law enforcement to attend the services and participate in the 15-mile procession to Seversen’s final resting place. He will be buried in the Kost Evangelical Free Church graveyard, east of North Branch, Minn., where his parents are also buried.
In the years since he was shot at age 27, Seversen pursued his passion for hunting and fishing, using “sip-and-puff” fishing rods and wheelchair-mounted rifles designed by a friend who owns a sporting goods store. He bagged two deer within a year or so of being shot and then a black bear several years ago.
“We just couldn’t believe he accepted what happened,” said Seversen’s brother, Mark. “Obviously, it was horrible, but he embraced what it meant to live paralyzed and kept caring for people and enjoying life.”
He lived independently and remained active in the Sheriff’s Office, Johnson said. In addition to the mechanically operated “sip-and-puff” wheelchair Seversen used a voice-activated computer to open doors, and run the lights, TV and stereo in his home.
“His attitude is what set him apart,” said Johnson, who was just starting his law enforcement career and was a reserve deputy in Burnett County at the time of the shootout.
Shot at close range
The events leading to the April 19, 1991, shootout that left Seversen paralyzed began a day earlier. Robert K. Reineccius was wanted in connection with a shooting in Chisago County that left a 24-year-old man wounded.
Law enforcement in the Burnett County village of Webster caught up to Reineccius on the street. He shot Seversen, sending a bullet into the deputy’s spine from 3 feet away.
Then Reineccius shot deputy Allen A. Albee, 35, in the hip with a bullet that ricocheted up to the deputy’s neck and killed the husband and father of two. That’s when law enforcement unleashed its own volley on Reineccius.
Seversen, his tenure as a sheriff’s deputy halted after four years, traveled and told his story. His message was to show that there is life after paralysis.
Still, despondency crept in.
“I’ll be honest with you,” said the graduate of Grace Bible College in a 1994 interview with the Star Tribune, “there are many times I go to bed at night and the lights are off and I’ll be crying and praying to the Lord to take me home because this is so hard.”
In September of that year, Seversen attended the funeral of slain St. Paul officer Ron Ryan Jr. Looking at the number of mourners and law agencies represented, he wondered at the time, “Would the lines have been this long for me?”