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Police release name of Moorhead man who died in Red River on Wednesday

Body recovered from Red River. Mike Nowatzki / The Forum

FARGO - Fargo police have released the name of a 23-year-old Moorhead man who drowned Wednesday after jumping into the Red River in an apparent attempt to escape police investigating a possible bike theft.

An autopsy is scheduled to be performed this morning in Bismarck on the body of Steven James Franek.

Lt. Jeff Skuza said an officer was investigating a report of a suspicious person at the Petro Serve USA station at NP Avenue and Second Street North at about 4:15 a.m. when he encountered Franek with bolt cutters near a couple of bicycles.

When the officer asked Franek his name and to have a seat in the patrol car, he ran, Skuza said.

"We'd been investigating a string of bike thefts where locks were cut, so we were investigating possibly he could have been involved in that, but he fled before we could even identify him," he said.

The officer chased Franek on foot onto the First Avenue North bridge. Franek jumped over the bridge railing onto the ground below, ran south along the riverbank and jumped into the river in an apparent attempt to swim to Moorhead and elude police, Skuza said.

Franek got about halfway across the channel and started to founder. Moorhead police officers threw him a life preserver, which Skuza said he should have been able to reach. However, Franek appeared to be getting lethargic and possibly hypothermic, Skuza said.

Officers kept Franek in sight and tried to coax him back to the riverbank, starting south of the bridge until he eventually sank north of the bridge, Skuza said.

A Valley Water Rescue team recovered Franek's body just before 7 a.m.

Valley Water Rescue President Pete Fendt said the team had five divers dressed to search in 20-minute shifts. The second diver recovered the body in about 10 to 12 feet of water about a third of the way into the channel from the Fargo side, he said.

A sonar unit purchased by Valley Water Rescue in December captured an image of what appeared to be the body, and the team knew his last known location before he sank, both of which made it easier to figure out where to search, Fendt said.

The Moorhead and Fargo fire departments each had two boats in the water during the search, as well. F-M Ambulance also responded to the scene.

Skuza said it's not uncommon for suspects to try to swim the river to elude police, but he added, "This is a bad time of the year to try that." The water temperature in the river was 44 degrees, he said.

Wednesday's river death followed an incident Sunday night in which a man crossing a railroad bridge between Fargo and Moorhead fell into the river, prompting a successful search-and-rescue effort.

The man was treated at a Fargo hospital but wasn't charged with a crime, and his name wasn't released.