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County worker dies in accident

Friends and co-workers are grieving the death of Lake County employee Lee Roy Jacobson, 58, who died when the excavator he was operating fell into a river near where he had been clearing ice Tuesday, Lake County officials said today.

"He was a well-known county employee," said BJ Kohlstedt, emergency management coordinator for Lake County, adding that he would be missed by many.

"It is with deep sadness that we report that our employee, Lee Roy Jacobson, died April 30th, 2013, after his excavator fell into the East branch of the Beaver River," Lake County Administrator Matthew Huddleston said in a statement.The accident occurred while Jacobson, a longtime Silver Bay resident, was clearing ice in front of a box culvert along County Road 5, Huddleston said.

According to Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson, his office received report of the accident at about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The sheriff's office, Lake County Search and Rescue, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Northshore Mining and Silver Bay's police department, fire department and public works division responded to the call. Jacobson died at the scene.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Lee Roy," the statement said. "We will continue to support them in this difficult time. Lake County takes employee safety very seriously and we will be evaluating this incident to make sure we are taking all necessary precautions. We are very grateful for the swift actions of the community and first responders during this tragic time."

Johnson said the accident is under investigation by the Lake County Sheriff's Office. The Occupational Safety and Health division of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry will also investigate, which is part of their standard operating procedures for workplace fatalities according to Huddleston.

Jacobson was a heavy equipment operator for the Lake County Highway Department and had been in the position for about a decade, according to Johnson.

He was also an active member of the Two Harbors Curling Club, and current president Rhonda Studier-Sve curled with him for a number of years. He had taken a short hiatus from the sport, and Studier-Sve said she was looking forward to his return to the sport.

"He had a sense of humor and was a very experienced curler. It was really enjoyable to curl with him," she said.

A long-time friend and former Silver Bay police officer Steve Elam said his wife, who went to school with Jacobson, began receiving messages about the incident yesterday around 3:30 p.m. The Elams are wintering in New Mexico and spoke to the Lake County News-Chronicle Wednesday.

Elam said that he was reluctant to believe early reports of the tragedy since much of the information was being shared on social media.

Elam's subsequent conversation with his son in Superior, Wis., however confirmed the sad news of Jacobson's death.

"He was a great kid. I've known him most of his life. In fact, if I think about it I can probably come up with his birthday," Elam said of Jacobson. Jacobson was engaged and his fiancé has two children.

"As a police officer, it has been my sad duty to make next of kin calls. I'm sure (Jacobson's) fiancé and kids are just devastated," Elam said.