The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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March 23, 2011

Searchers find body of MnDOT worker near Seven Mile Creek

ST PETER — Brandon Omtvedt is alive today. And for that, he says, he thanks a man named Michael Struck.

“Obviously, I owe my life to him,” said Omtvedt, recalling the day he collapsed last summer while jogging with his brother. Struck was the first rescuer on the scene, taking over resuscitation efforts from a pair of passing motorists. Without Struck’s help, Omtvedt said, he’d be dead or brain damaged.

Struck’s body was pulled Wednesday from the waters that have flooded Seven Mile Creek County Park between Mankato and St. Peter. Struck was operating a backhoe that tipped over, and he was pulled under and had been missing for about 24 hours.

Omtvedt got word a few hours after it occurred.

“When I heard what had happened to him, I was kind of in disbelief,” he said. “You never think it will happen to the good people in life.”

Searchers from the Nicollet County Sheriff’s Department and Department of Natural Resources started searching immediately when Struck fell into the water around noon Tuesday.

His body was found at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday about 25 yards east of Highway 169 in 10-12 feet of water. Struck had been operating a backhoe when, with the arm fully extended, the current pulled the machine and Struck into the water. His body went through the culvert that runs under the highway, and that’s where rescuers focused most of their search.

During most of Wednesday, three boats could be seen slowly moving around the flooded area on the east side of the highway. Before the body was found, Nicollet County Sheriff Dave Lange worried it may take days, weeks or even up to a month to find Struck.

“The recovery part is over and now our hearts go out to the family,” Lange said.

He also said he’s relieved the search concluded sooner rather than later.

“It’s certainly a relief because it ties up a lot of resources,” he said.

The Struck family released a statement: “Our family is devastated by this tragedy and Mike will be sorely missed by many. Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time while respecting our privacy.”

Jim Swanson, district manager for MnDOT’s Mankato office, called Struck a “very popular employee.” He had been with MnDOT for nine years.

Swanson said floods produce dangerous situations whenever water goes where it usually doesn’t. (For example, a woman driving a van wound up going off the road and being dragged along the current for a short distance before getting snagged on a tree. She was uninjured.)

Cleveland Fire Chief Kevin said Struck was often the first volunteer for a job, came to just about every call and could be counted on to get the job done.

So it wasn’t a surprise, he said, that Struck was there first that Saturday morning in July to help an unconscious 19-year-old.

Omtvedt was out for a 10-mile run with his brother that day and has since had a defibrillator installed in his chest. Today the Minnesota State University engineering student is healthy, and he’s thankful for that.

So is his mom.

She remembered how, at the time, she struggled to find words for the man who saved her son.

“What can you say but thank you,” Rhonda Omtvedt said. “There’s never enough words to say thank you for that.”

Brandon Omtvedt said the last time he saw Struck was during the fall when he and his family went to a banquet at the fire hall. They brought food as a way of saying thanks.

“I was pretty much in tears,” Brandon said. “He took time out of his Saturday morning with his family to come and save me.”

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