The Minnesota conservation officer who drowned in a Pine County Lake on April 19 was not wearing a life jacket when his DNR-issued boat made an abrupt turn, throwing him and a county deputy into Cross Lake.
That was the finding in the final Pine County Sheriff’s Office report on the accident released to the public Thursday.
The report said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Eugene Wynn and Deputy Scott Grice were responding to a report of something suspicious in the water, possibly a person, in the lake where chunks of winter ice were still floating.
According to the sheriff's report, Wynn accelerated the boat away from shore and then suddenly made an abrupt left turn. There is speculation that Wynn may have been trying to avoid a chunk of ice, but there were no reports of the boat striking anything. The turn sent Wynn and Grice into the cold water as the boat continued under power across the lake until it beached on the west side.
There were two life jackets in the boat but neither officer was wearing one. While state law only requires life jackets be readily available in the boat, DNR policy requires officers to wear them while on the water.
Another deputy, Cody LaRue, attempted to paddle a small boat out to the accident scene while another deputy, Aaron Quesenberry, used a pedal boat to reach the accident scene. The two deputies were able to rescue Grice but Wynn had already slipped below the surface of the water.
Wynn’s body was recovered several hours later. Rice was treated and released at a Mora, Minn. hospital.
A U.S. Coast Guard inspection of the boat “did not identify any abnormalities to the boat that would have contributed to the accident,’’ the sheriff’s report noted.
The sheriff’s report ended with a strong message asking people to wear safety devices like life jackets and not just have them nearby.
“In this case the officers were thrown from the boat within a minute of being on the water and were not able to continue swimming within minutes,’’ the report noted.
Despite further searches no other people were found on the lake and there were no reports of anyone missing.
Wynn, 43, had been a Minnesota conservation officer since 2001. He was based in Pine City. He left behind a wife, an 11-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.
Wynn is the 22nd Minnesota conservation officer to die in the line of duty, according to the DNR.
The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration also is investigating the accident.