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Minnesota DNR conservation officer dies while responding to call in Pine County

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Updated: 4:10 p.m. | Posted: 12:50 p.m.

A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer died Friday night after being thrown from a boat while responding to a call near Pine City.

DNR officials identified the officer as Eugene Wynn, 43, who was based in Pine City and had been a conservation officer since 2001.

"Words can't describe the sense of loss we feel at this time," Minnesota DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a news release. "Officer Wynn's service to the state of Minnesota is a debt we can never repay."

"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," Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. "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 Pine County Sheriff's Office reported that anglers on shore reported a possible body in the waters of Cross Lake at about 7:45 p.m. Wynn and several Pine County sheriff's deputies responded to the scene, but were not able to determine what the object was from shore.

"The conservation officer got his boat and he and a deputy launched it into Cross Lake," the sheriff's office reported in a news release. "Within a minute of leaving the launch both officers were thrown from the boat into the water. They began swimming towards shore and additional deputies procured a rowboat from a neighboring property and attempted to rescue the officers in the water."

The rescuers were able to reach the deputy in the water, but Wynn  slipped beneath the surface of the lake before they could reach him. His body was recovered from the lake at about 1:35 a.m. Saturday.

The injured deputy was treated for "temperature-related injuries" at a hospital in Mora, Minn., and later released, the sheriff's office reported.

The incident remains under investigation, and authorities said an autopsy will be conducted. The sheriff's office said searchers have not found the object in the lake that prompted the initial call, and there are no reports of anyone missing.

Pine County officials declined further comment on Saturday.

Wynn is survived by a wife and two children. The DNR said he is the 22nd Minnesota conservation officer to die in the line of duty. 

"Officer Wynn served the Enforcement Division, the DNR, and the people of Minnesota with distinction. 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. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR's Enforcement Division, said in a news release. 

Other agencies assisting at the scene included the Minnesota State Patrol, Wisconsin DNR, Pine City Fire Department, Stacy-Lent Fire Department, Chisago County Sheriff's Office, St. Louis County Rescue Squad and Essentia Ambulance.