A conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources died Friday evening after being thrown out of a boat into the frigid waters of a Pine County lake while responding to a report of a possible body in the water.
The officer, identified by the DNR as Eugene Wynn Jr., 43, of Pine City, was responding to a call about 7:45 p.m. from a fisherman on shore who reported seeing a suspicious object, possibly a body, floating in Cross Lake, which is just east of Pine City.
Accompanied by a Pine County sheriff’s deputy, Wynn went out in a boat to inspect the object, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“Within a minute of leaving the launch, both officers were thrown from the boat into the water,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
The two began swimming toward shore while other deputies at the scene borrowed a rowboat from shoreline residents and tried to rescue them. They were able to retrieve the sheriff’s deputy, but Wynn “slipped under the water before they could get to him,” the statement said.
A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office declined to say whether Wynn and the deputy were wearing life jackets or had flotation devices in their boat. “We’re not releasing any more information at this time,” he said.
Wynn’s body was found about 1:30 a.m. Saturday following an intensive search under massive lights that involved DNR officers from Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Minnesota State Patrol, Pine and Chisago County sheriff’s deputies, and firefighters and rescue personnel from Pine City, Stacy/Lent and St. Louis County.
The sheriff’s deputy was taken by ambulance to FirstLight Hospital in Mora, where “he was treated for temperature related injuries” and released, the statement said.
An autopsy will be conducted, the Pine County Sheriff’s Office said.
The object that the witness had initially reported was never found, the Sheriff’s Office said. “We do not have any reports of a missing person and no further searches will be conducted at this time,” the statement said.
Wynn, who had been a DNR conservation officer for 18 years, is survived by his wife and two children, according to the DNR. He’s the 22nd Minnesota conservation officer to die in the line of duty. Conservation officers formerly were called game wardens.
Wynn’s death prompted an outpouring of condolences from Minnesota leaders.
“As a first responder, peace officer, and protector of Minnesota’s natural resources, Officer Eugene Wynn dedicated his life to keeping Minnesotans safe and making our state a better place to live,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a prepared statement. First Lady “Gwen and I send our deepest sympathies to his family and on behalf of the State of Minnesota, we thank him for his many years of selfless service.”
Said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen: “Words can’t describe the sense of loss we feel at this time. Officer Wynn’s service to the state of Minnesota is a debt we can never repay.”
Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR’s enforcement division, in which Wynn worked, said he “served with distinction.”
“We’re devastated by his loss and ask the people of Minnesota to keep Officer Wynn and his family in their thoughts during this difficult time,” Smith said.