Monticello Fire crews slowly extended the ladder on their truck, raising an American flag draped from its high point. As traffic made its way underneath the Interstate 94 overpass near County Highway 75, the lights of dozens of patrol cruisers could be seen making their way eastward, escorting a lone, black hearse.
The same scene played out in Clearwater, Albertville, St. Michael, and on dozens of other bridges as a police escort guided the hearse carrying the body of fallen Aitkin County Deputy Steven Martin Sandberg, 60, from St. Cloud Hospital, where he was shot and killed Sunday morning, to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in St. Paul.
According to multiple reports, Sandberg, a 24-year veteran of the force and longtime member of the Aitkin County department, was murdered when the patient he was guarding at St. Cloud Hospital took Sandberg’s gun from him in a struggle, and fired multiple shots. No one else was injured by the gunfire.
The patient, Danny Leroy Hammond, 50, of rural Aitkin, who also died Sunday morning, was subdued by hospital guards and other police on site. He was Tazed in the struggle, and lost consciousness. An autopsy will determine his cause of death.
Hammond was guarded at the request of St. Cloud Hospital staff after what the St. Cloud Times called a “domestic incident.” The Times reports that BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said Hammond had not been arrested and was not in handcuffs. St. Cloud Hospital Vice President Kurt Otto said the hospital requested the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Department monitor Hammond because of the seriousness of the domestic incident.
Sandberg, who is married and has a daughter in college, was a beloved member of the Aitkin community, witnesses said. Law enforcement and firefighters lined Interstate 94, 694 and 35E along his journey. A convoy of cars that started in St. Cloud grew more than a mile long as it picked up fellow officers through Wright County and larger communities throughout the metro. Some even stood alongside the freeway and saluted as it motored past.
According to national statistics, Sandberg is the 100th officer to fall in the line of duty in 2015.
“I deplore the terrible, senseless murder of Deputy Sheriff Steven Sandberg,” said Gov. Mark Dayton in a statement released Sunday. “On behalf of all MInnesotans, I extend my deepest condolences to his family. This tragedy reminds us that Minnesota’s law enforcement officers risk their lives every day and night to keep us safe.”