On Monday morning, we lost a very special person in our Itasca County community. The call came in at 8:30 AM. There had been a traffic accident. A pickup truck and semi-tractor trailer collided at the intersection of two rural roads. The Itasca County Sheriff’s Dispatchers quickly transmitted vital information over the law enforcement radio. The pickup was struck broadsided. The driver of the pickup truck was trapped and not moving.
As Itasca County Deputies and State Troopers raced to the scene, we all held our breath, knowing that the outcome was destined to be bad, yet hoping that we would be wrong. The dispatchers were sending ambulances and firetrucks. A medical helicopter was requested but fog was a factor. Then we heard the radio transmission, “It is a DNR pickup truck.” Our hearts sank.
It does not take long for news to spread in law enforcement circles. Although emergency and medical crews worked quickly and efficiently, the thirty-nine year old Minnesota DNR Conservation Officer had served her final tour of duty. We were crushed. How can these things happen to good people? She was a wife, mother of three young children, a co-worker and a friend to so many. She cared for and protected the outdoors that we all cherish.
The Minnesota State Patrol will meticulously reconstruct the accident but it is not the “how” that matters. It is the “why” that is so difficult to understand. Somehow, it is so unfair.
That afternoon we each rummaged through our lockers, searching for something. A black elastic mourning band. We will slip it over our breast badges in her honor and solemn remembrance. In a few days, we will line up, salute our fallen comrade and slowly drive in procession, escorting her to her final rest.
Seven Itasca County peace officers have lost their lives in the performance of their duties.
Nashwauk Officer August Kokko, February 12, 1914
Itasca County Deputy Earl Hyatt, July 17, 1922
DNR Conservation Officer Norman Fairbanks, May 3, 1930
Itasca County Deputy Juanita Badavinack, March 28, 1977
Keewatin Officer Donald Mayerlie, November 15, 1977
Itasca County Deputy Dennis Bouchie, August 10, 1979
Itasca County Deputy Robert “Beefy” Lawson, October 29, 1981
Another name is now added to the list.
DNR Conservation Officer Sarah Grell, May 24, 2021. Rest in peace Sarah. We will never forget.