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Thief River Falls honors police officer slain in 1962

At the age of 32, Sgt. Donald Myers took his last breath as a husband, a father and an officer of the Thief River Falls Police Department.


Myers died on Feb. 17, 1962, after a suspect shot him in the chest with a rifle following a car chase on U.S. Highway 59 through rural Minnesota.

More than 50 years after his death, Thief River Falls police officer Ryan Bassett hopes to honor the fallen policeman through a memorial fund. The idea started as a conversation with coworkers.

“We were talking and someone said, ‘It’s been 52 years, maybe we should think about doing something,’” Bassett said. “They put me in charge of it because they knew I would run with it and go as far as I could with it.”

After a couple of months of fundraising, Bassett had more than enough donations from officers and the community to reach his goal of $2,500 to buy a plaque honoring Myers.

The plaque was dedicated Wednesday at Thief River Falls City Hall.

“As a City Council member, I’m unbelievably proud of them,” Ward 5 representative Rachel Prudhomme told the Herald Wednesday prior to the event. “They’re making a lasting contribution to a fallen officer and the future of law enforcement in our area.”

Heroic act

Following the ceremony, the plaque will hang in the Pennington County Law Enforcement Center. It commemorates an officer who went above and beyond to help people during his seven years on the force, Bassett said.

Myers was doing just that the day he died.

“He was taking an extra step to help a family,” Bassett said.

On a Saturday night five decades ago, Myers and his partner, patrolman Bennie Miramontes, responded to a domestic dispute call. Upon arrival, they witnessed 19-year-old Paul Wangberg pull out of a garage and flee following an argument with family members.

After a car chase, Wangberg crashed the vehicle and opened fire on Myers when he approached it. Though shot through the heart, Myers fired and managed to hit Wangberg in the leg — an action newspaper accounts at the time say may have saved his partner’s life. 

Wangberg pleaded guilty to manslaughter in October 1965 and was sentenced to serve an indeterminate amount of time at the St. Cloud Reformatory, according to nonprofit Officer Down Memorial Page.  The page lists officers who have died in the line of duty.

Myers is one of two Thief River Falls police officers killed while on the job. The second was Chief Roy Pederson, who died in a plane crash in 1974 while on his way to tour a law enforcement center in another town.

Law enforcement scholarship funds in Myers and Pederson’s names are in the works, according to Bassett.