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Polk County snow remover rides loader to bottom of Red Lake River

Mike Raymond figured he was doing the city and his fellow ice fisherpeople a favor in the dark morning hours Monday when he wheeled the county's big John Deere 544 loader to the boat ramp in Crookston's Central Park.

A 28-year employee of Polk County, Raymond was working the graveyard shift cleaning snow from county parking lots in downtown Crookston.

He took a break to clean the snow off the boat ramp, something city workers usually do, Raymond said.

"A lot of fish houses go up and down it," he said. "It's a nice thing the city does, to keep it open. Some people have fish houses on trailers, so they drive right down on the river. So, it works out real nice."

His plan didn't work out so nice, though.

The $200,000 loader slipped down the cement ramp onto the frozen Red Lake River and kept going, through the ice right to the bottom, about five feet from the bank. "About five and a half feet," he said of the sinking feeling he got inside the loader. "It weighs 9 tons."

"I didn't mean to go out on the river. That's where it slipped, and I couldn't stop it."

The veteran county employee works the night shift during snow removal season and had started at 10 p.m. Sunday, planning to work until about 7 a.m. Monday.

He took a break to clean the boat ramp and ended up sitting inside the dunked loader.

"It was 2:13 this morning when I called 911," he said. He stayed in the cab, using his cell phone to call for help. "I couldn't get out. It was dark out, and I didn't dare jump because I didn't know if the piece of ice would hold me. I don't like cold water."

But he's in some hot water over the icy dip.

His boss, Richard Sanders, head of the county highway department, said Raymond was sent home early today and would be disciplined.

"His duties were supposed to be to clean out the parking lots for the county government building and the sheriff's department," Sanders said. "He wasn't supposed to be down there at all."

Raymond was five blocks away from where he was supposed to be moving snow, Sanders said.

"We have no agreement with the city to provide any work for them," Sanders said. "He certainly wasn't told to go down there. He went down there on his own. It was unauthorized work and unauthorized use of the equipment. I don't know what he was doing down there. All I know is a loader ended up in the river."

It took divers and equipment and hours to finally get the loader extracted by noon Monday, Sanders said.

"It's in the shop and getting thawed out and we will take a look at it tomorrow to see if there is any damage to the engine," Sanders said. "What we can see on the exterior is some lights broken, tires scarred up and one of the steps to get up in it is bent. Other than that, physically, we don't see anything."

Raymond has a fish house himself on the river near the park. But he was not, as he heard said on televised reports, trying to clear a path to his own fish house, Raymond said.

"That is totally, totally, wrong -- 100 percent wrong."

Raymond said he met with his supervisors Monday and is waiting, with some concern, to find out today what the verdict is.

"I screwed up, and I'm going to pay for it," he said. "I sure don't want to lose my job after 28 years. I don't think anybody would."

In all his years with the county, he had never cleared snow off the city's boat ramp in Central Park, Raymond said.

"And I will never clean it again, either."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to