A Floodwood, Minn., City Council member was killed Sunday night when he was struck and killed by a passing motorist as he inspected damage to a car that had hit a bear on a northern Minnesota highway, the State Patrol said.
Vernon Owens, 61, was a passenger in a Chevy Cruze that hit the bear on Hwy. 200 just west of Jacobson Township in Aitkin County about 7:45 p.m., according to emergency dispatch audio.
Owens had been a member of the Floodwood City Council since 2008 and was in his third term. He had served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy. He also was active in the veterans community in the northern Minnesota town, said his half-brother, Howard Owens.
"We're all very sad. He was a great guy, always cheerful, with a hearty laugh that could make your ribs rattle," Howard Owens said.
Known to many town residents as "Tattoo Vern," Owens was the smiling guy with a towering personality who was always part of town parades and area celebrations and services, saluting veterans and paying tribute to their service, said Floodwood resident Jessica Phoenix.
Owens was also commander of the Floodwood VFW and volunteered with a local car club, those who knew him said.
"Owens should first be remembered as a veteran who served his country," said Floodwood Mayor Jeff Kletscher. "He continued his commitment to civil service by running for City Council. Vern was a dedicated council member who rarely missed a meeting, was engaged in the community and was always willing to step up to assist others."
Thomas Steven Andor, 64, of Hibbing, who was driving the Cruze, was not hurt.
The driver of the car that hit Owens was identified by the patrol as Jane Marie Sautbine, 55, of Cloquet and was not hurt. She was wearing a seat belt, and alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the crash, the patrol said.
The black bear struck by the car was not one of the radio-collared bears tracked by the DNR. There was no word on the bear's condition.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768