Shirley and Clemons Bak talked about their son Travis Benjamin in the past tense Sunday, but said they still hope that somehow, some way, the 39-year-old Ramsey man managed to climb out of the frigid water of the Mississippi River.
As the Baks talked in a picnic shelter about a mile downstream from where their son’s SUV plunged into the river early Friday morning, an Anoka County Sheriff’s boat trolled slowly up and down in front of Mississippi River Community Park. The current was too fast to use divers, authorities said, but searchers used sonar to search for the body.
Witnesses said Benjamin’s Hummer went through a residential yard, stopped at the shoreline, then appeared to purposely drive into the river where the vehicle ended up in the water up to its headlights. Another man who was in the Hummer was rescued from the water.
But the Baks, who flew into the Twin Cities on Saturday night from their home in Atlanta, insist that Benjamin was not suicidal.
“Travis was a very, very conscientious individual, almost to the point of being a pain sometimes,” said his stepfather, Clemons Bak. “What I saw in his apartment is he had this project going on, this project going on, this project going on. There’s no question in my mind that this was a complete and total accident for him.”
The Baks also said they wonder if Benjamin was even driving the car.
Benjamin grew up in Atlanta, the middle of three sons. He left for the Air Force straight out of high school, then moved to the Twin Cities in 1997.
“He never liked the hot weather,” said his mother, Shirley Bak, who called her son “very independent and self-reliant.”
He attended St. Cloud State University and earned a degree in health care administration from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. He worked at Medica for a while, but always wanted to work for the government, his mother said. He was working for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, she said.
Jess Crassweller was with Benjamin and another friend earlier Thursday night. He said the other friend, who was in the Hummer when it plunged into the river, doesn’t remember what happened. On Sunday Crassweller said he didn’t want to identify the other man or say where they’d been.
“Having a good time,” is all Crassweller would say.
He said Benjamin was in good spirits and was busy planning for an excursion for this coming weekend.
“He and I were going to see our buddy in Green Bay,” Crassweller said. “I hadn’t agreed to it; I said I didn’t know, so he contacted our buddy and proceeded to make the arrangements. He was excited about that.”
Crassweller and a group of friends scoured both sides of the riverbank Friday afternoon and Saturday, he said.
“The other individual, a friend of Travis’, he doesn’t recall anything so if he’s in that state, maybe Travis is in the exact same state,” Crassweller said.
Clemons Bak agreed. “There is the possibility he made it out. If we can at least get that idea out, we most definitely want to continue looking for Travis. Not just under the water. If anybody knows anything, sees anything, we’d like to know that.”
Benjamin’s parents speculated that he could be somewhere on the shore, alive or dead. Someone could have found him but doesn’t know who he is.
“We’re obviously looking to have closure before we have to go back to Georgia,” Clemons Bak said. “We’re here for as long as it’ll take to get there.”