The man killed in a pre-holiday boating accident on the St. Croix River was identified Thursday as Nathan A. Nieber, 26, of North St. Paul.
Nieber, who worked at the Rosemount headquarters of the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota Army National Guard, died of massive trauma to his upper body and head when a large pleasure boat ran over the 18-foot Lund fishing boat in which he was a passenger, authorities said.
"The guard lost a bright, young leader," Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Gary Olson, said Thursday. "He was the go-to guy. That's what makes this loss particularly tragic — because of the career in front of him."
Nieber was engaged to be married. Family members declined to comment.
Five other National Guard members, all from the 34th Infantry Division headquarters, were being treated Thursday for what authorities called non-life threatening injuries at Regions Hospital in St. Paul and Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater.
They were identified as: Major Michael Wehking, 39, of Arden Hills; Major Amanda Digre, 34, of Maplewood; Sgt. 1st Class Angela Amundson, 31, of Cottage Grove; Staff Sgt. Scott MacDonald, 37, of Rosemount; and Staff Sgt. Judith Strain, 33, of Rochester.
Authorities are investigating what turned a fun-filled outing Wednesday into the second fatal boat collision in that area of the St. Croix in three years.
Nieber was part of a group of about 40 members of the 34th Infantry Division headquarters staff who gathered Wednesday for a pre-holiday celebration, the Guard said in a release.
They started the day with a four-mile "fun run" in Lakeland and then moved to the Pier Island public beach in Hudson for volleyball and water-skiing. After a late lunch at a Hudson restaurant, 11 members of the group headed up to Stillwater on the two boats.
The collision happened about 4:30 p.m. just south of downtown Stillwater when the fishing boat carrying Nieber and the five injured Guard members stopped for some unknown reason in the middle of the river channel.
A 31-foot cruiser with five Guard members aboard plowed into the smaller boat.
The cruiser apparently tried to avoid striking the small boat, but was unsuccessful, said Washington County Jim Frank
Attorney Paul Godlewski of the law firm of Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben is representing the family of Nathan Nieber.
The outing included alcohol, but Frank said it wasn't clear if alcohol was a factor in the collision of the two boats. Alcoholic beverages were found on both boats; blood-test results for the drivers of both boats were pending.
The Guard boaters pulled into the city docks where the Andiamo paddleboats are docked, said Dickie Anderson, owner of the St. Croix Boat and Packet Co., which owns the Andiamo boats.
"They were having a lot of fun and dancing on board the boats," Anderson said. "I watched them dance, and the next thing I knew someone was screaming. It kind of spoils the day, doesn't it?"
He called 911 and sent Michael Tuft, the Andiamo's dock boy, out to assist in a small company-owned boat. Nieber was alive when Tuft arrived at the scene. "I knew he wasn't going to make it," said Tuft, 16, of Stillwater.
"It was really kind of a shock. You just don't expect to see something like that on a day when you're at work."
Boater Kevin Shosten, of Inver Grove Heights, watched the accident victims being brought to shore and said he doubts alcohol was to blame. "It appeared that one person had had too much to drink, but the rest seemed fine," he said.
Nieber was assigned to the Mankato-based 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, though he worked full time at Rosemount.
As part of the infantry battalion in Mankato, he was sent to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in January 2001 and returned in June of that year. As platoon leader, he oversaw 30 to 40 soldiers providing security in the desert to Army Patriot missile sites.
Last fall, he took another shot at the Ranger School, described as the U.S. Army's version of Navy SEALs training. The first time around, he simply didn't make it.
On his second attempt, he finished first in his class and received the William O. Darby Award, named for the founder of the modern-day U.S. Army Rangers.
Most recently, his full-time work at the Guard meant planning for soldiers to head to Bosnia in 2003 for the ongoing U.S. peacekeeping mission.
Olson said he last saw Nieber at headquarters this week. They exchanged pleasantries, with Olson asking "Working hard?" and Nieber smiling and replying "Always, sir, always."