His vehicle stuck in a swamp off U.S. Highway 2 in the Brookston area, Ron Tarnowski tried to get help for himself and his wife, Mary, said the investigator into the deaths of the elderly Duluth couple found Saturday following a widespread and weeklong search.
"Undoubtedly he was going for help," Sgt. Wade Rasch, of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office, said of Ron Tarnowski, whose body was found near the roadway.
Mary was located nearby, deceased in the couple's Chevy Tahoe, which had gotten stuck in a swamp after having traveled down an overgrown trail which is likely used only in the winter by snowmobilers, Rasch said.
"It's a very sad situation," Rasch said, explaining there were no signs of foul play or trauma evident at the scene.
Rasch said he expected autopsies on the couple to have been conducted Sunday in Anoka County, where the bodies were transported to the Midwest Medical Examiners Office.
"We got some closure," said Karl Tarnowski, one of the couple's two sons, to the News Tribune on Sunday. "I want to thank the public for their overwhelming support. It was absolutely outstanding - the friends, the family, the law enforcement, just everybody. It was overwhelming."
The couple went missing July 29. Karl said the family began to worry after they didn't come home before dark, which was normal for them after short trips out to eat. Ron, 82, retired after 31 years as a Duluth firefighter, was in the early stages of dementia. Mary, 78, dealt with the aftereffects of a stroke she suffered more than 30 years ago, Karl said. They lived across the driveway from Karl and were checked on by family day and night.
"Once again, it says to me, he was trying to help my mom," Karl said of his father. "He had a heart of gold for her."
Karl said he and his brother, Kurt, both put more than 1,500 miles onto their vehicles during what was a desperate week of searching. He guessed "that with the amount of people that were here, there were about 100,000 miles in search vehicle support," Karl said.
Search parties met again Saturday, in the parking lot of the Country Corner bar and grill on Highway 2, where the couple had last been seen on July 29. The bar is located a few miles east of where the couple was found by a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter on loan from Grand Forks, N.D. The copter carried St. Louis County Rescue Squad members who offered extra eyes and "were assisting with local situational awareness," Rasch said.
The vehicle was found south of Highway 2, about a mile from a family hunting shack in the area. The turn off Highway 2 taken by the Tarnowskis was not a road, but an overgrown driveway which led to the trail the couple turned down, Rasch said. The helicopter landed in a small clearing nearby which has been used as a staging area by loggers.
"They were presumably looking for the deer shack is what we can infer," Rasch said of the Tarnowskis.
Karl said the family will begin working with Dougherty Funeral Home of Duluth on Monday.
"It's been the toughest thing we've ever had to go through," Karl said.
He advised family members and caregivers to make sure loved ones have cellphones with them and that vehicle location systems are turned on.