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Drowning cited in Carlton man's death

An autopsy did not point to any foul play in the death of Lucas Dudden, according to the Aitkin County sheriff.

Lucas Dudden 1
Lucas Dudden
Contributed / Carlton County Sheriff's Office
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MCGREGOR — Freshwater drowning has been cited as the cause of death for a Carlton man who was missing for more than two weeks before his body was recovered Friday from a rural Aitkin County lake.

Lucas Dudden, 38, was found in approximately 3.5 feet of water on Rat Lake, Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida told the News Tribune on Thursday. He said an autopsy did not point to any signs of foul play.

"He had water in his lungs and water in his stomach, and that's a very typical thing for people that we end up finding in a lake," Guida said. "The initial report also indicates there was no trauma anywhere on his body."

Guida said recovery crews were able to identify areas where Dudden had apparently walked alone before going into the water. His water bottle also was recovered nearby.

"The place where he was (located) was adjacent to a bog that was really difficult to get back up on shore," Guida said. "So we believe he had fallen in the water and was kind of essentially stuck out there because he couldn't get up on land or whatever. And it was dark out. Had it been daylight, he probably could've picked a spot with some trees and climbed up, but some of those floating bog edges are a little bit tricky."

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Dudden was described by his family as an avid outdoorsman, and his Facebook page features many scenic waterfront photos from his nature travels.

Lucas Dudden 2
Lucas Dudden.
Contributed / Carlton County Sheriff's Office

His father, Don Dudden, had previously described his disappearance as suspicious and raised concerns about the possibility of foul play. He said Thursday that he accepted the findings but was still struggling to understand the circumstances.

"Who knows if he was trying to take a picture or something," the father said. "He loved nature and he loved to take pictures. I don't know if something captured his eye out there that he tried to go capture or what. But it's tragic."

Lucas Dudden was born in Nebraska and grew up in the Fargo-Moorhead area. He was living in Carlton while working for the past year as a pipefitter at the Superior refinery rebuild project. His father said he had never missed a day of work before going missing Oct. 26.

Don Dudden told the News Tribune last week that his son's phone last pinged around 8 p.m. that day near where his truck was found on a remote road along Rat Lake, about 8 miles north of McGregor. He had also made a purchase that day at a nearby gas station.

Lucas Dudden was first reported missing to authorities on Oct. 31, prompting air, water and land searches around Rat Lake for several days before efforts were temporarily halted by the start of the firearms deer season.

His body was recovered Friday and later confirmed by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office to be Dudden. Guida said the body was found in a relatively secluded area of the lake, away from the private residences and docks that are located on its southern edge.

The sheriff indicated Dudden's drowning in relatively shallow water could have been a result of immersion hypothermia. A full autopsy report, including toxicology results, is still pending.

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"Those unanswered questions in life — we're never going to have an answer to all of them," Guida said. "But sometimes, if we have the details around it, we can paint a picture in our mind that's a lot clearer."

Lucas Dudden left behind a son who lives in Nevada, and his father said he was working to save up enough money to eventually mover closer to him.

"Things didn't add up or make sense, and they still don't really," Don Dudden said. "But at least they found him and we're going to have some closure."

Related Topics: CARLTONMISSING PERSONS
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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