Pine City, MN – Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Enforcement Division Conservation Officer Eugene Wynn died in the line of duty on Friday, when he was ejected from a boat into the frigid waters of Cross Lake.
Officer Wynn, 43, and a Pine County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) deputy responded to the Cross Lake area at approximately 7:45 p.m., after a fisherman reported that there was possibly a body floating in the water, KMSP reported.
The deputy and Officer Wynn were unable to identify the floating object from their position on the shoreline, so they got into the veteran officer’s boat to investigate further.
But within one minute of their launch, both the deputy and Officer Wynn were catapulted from the vessel into the icy water.
They tried to swim to shore, while other deputies attempted to rescue them with a rowboat.
“He was out there, struggling to hang on to him, he kept yelling his name saying 'stay with us,'" witness Katie Schwartz told WCCO.
The deputy was ultimately rescued, but they were unable to get to Officer Wynn before he slipped beneath the surface.
“All of the ice from other parts of the lake come up and there’s a strong current that goes right along the river,” said Schwartz’s mother, Barbara Videen.
“When it changed from being a rescue to…a recovery, the whole atmosphere changed,” Videen recounted. “You could tell it was really hard for them because it was one of their own that was missing.”
Officer Wynn’s body was recovered from the frigid water early Saturday morning.
The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office will determine Officer Wynn’s official cause of death.
The deputy who was pulled from the water was treated at a hospital in Mora, and has since been released.
The object that was seen floating in the lake was never identified or recovered.
The PCSO said that the incident was accidental, and that they are working to determine what events led up to the tragedy.
Officer Wynn, a married father-of-two, has been with the DNR since 2001, KMSP reported.
"Words can't describe the sense of loss we feel at this time," DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen told the news outlet. "Officer Wynn's service to the state of Minnesota is a debt we can never repay."
Officer Wynn served his agency – and the entire state of Minnesota – with distinction, DNR Enforcement Division Director Colonel Rodmen Smith said.
“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,” Col. Smith added.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz praised the fallen officer for his service in a statement on Saturday afternoon, WCCO reported.
“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,” Walz said.
“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,” the governor’s statement read.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division Conservation Officer Eugene Wynn, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.