Minnesota DNR officer death investigation: Abrupt turn threw officers from boat, no life jackets

The Pine County Sheriff’s Office has released its final update on the investigation into the death of Minnesota Conservation Officer Eugene Wynn. 

According to the sheriff’s investigation, Wynn made an abrupt left turn while pulling a boat away from the shore of Cross Lake on Friday, April 19 while responding to a call of a possible body in the water. Wynn and Pine County Sgt. Scott Grice were thrown into the water when the boat corrected its course.

There were two life jackets in the boat at the time of the accident, but the investigation confirmed the officers were not wearing them. Minnesota law does not require life jacket use for adults.

According to the Pine County Sheriff, Wynn and Grice launched their boat at 8:25 p.m. on April 19 while Pine County Deputy Cody LaRoue backed Officer Wynn’s truck to the water. The plan was to drive the boat in a loop and circle back to pick up Deputy LaRoue at the launch. According to the sheriff, when Officer Wynn accelerated the boat away from shore and suddenly made an abrupt left turn, the boat corrected and both Wynn and Grice were thrown into the water.

The empty boat continued on its course until it beached on the west side of Cross Lake. It traveled about 800 feet on the water and about 50 feet onto land. The boat is owned by the Minnesota DNR and is a 2004 River Pro with an inboard jet drive. The U.S. Coast Guard inspected the boat and did not identify any abnormalities that would have contributed to the accident.

Witnesses on the southeast side of Cross Lake and Deputy LaRoue saw the two officers in the water after the accident. Deputy LaRoue went to a neighboring property and used a rowboat to reach the officers in the water. He was able to reach Sgt. Grice, but Officer Wynn had already gone under. 

Deputy Aaron Quesenberry used a pedal boat to assist in the rescue, but ended up in the rowboat while Deputy LaRoue held onto Sgt. Grice. After getting back to shore, Grice was taken to Firstlight Hospital in Mora where he was treated and released for temperature-related injuries.  

Property owners on Cross Lake reported seeing large chunks of ice floating on the water until the evening of the April 20. It is unknown if the evasive maneuver by Officer Wynn was related to debris on the lake but no one could recall hearing an impact while the boat was on the water. The surface temperature of the water was in the low 40s at the time of the accident.

“We strongly recommend that all people that are enjoying the natural resources in Pine County use all safety devices that are appropriate,” the Pine County Sheirff’s Office said. “That would include life jackets, helmets, seatbelts, and tree stand safety harnesses. Accidents happen very quickly, even to the very well trained and experienced. The safety devices only work if people put them to use before an accident happens. 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. ATV crashes and tree stand falls happen as quickly with similar unfortunate outcomes. We wish to express our continued support for the family and the deep sense of loss of a partner and friend.”

Wynn was the 22nd conservation officer to die in Minnesota.