MINNEAPOLIS - A 46-year-old Juneau man went over a barrier and fell about 25 feet to his death while running in Minneapolis, landing on the trail where he had been just a moment earlier, authorities and family members said Wednesday. The man, identified by family as John Caouette, grew up in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, attended the University of Minnesota and was in the area with his family, visiting his mother and other relatives.
He was on the staff of the Nature Conservancy in Juneau. His wife, Rebecca Braun, is a well-known political reporter in for a publication the Alaska Budget Report. They have two children, ages 8 and 2.
Caouette died about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on Cedar Lake Trail, Minneapolis Park Police Sgt. Fred McCormick said.
"He just kind of hopped over ... and down below," McCormick said. "He was dead after he hit the pavement head-first."
A witness at a traffic light at Cedar Lake Road and Cedar Lake Parkway reported seeing Caouette come up the stairs from the trail and then run across the parkway before going over the barrier, McCormick said.
"It's kind of a mystery," said the sergeant, noting that there was a crosswalk 50 feet to the south of where Caouette crossed the street. McCormick said that investigators do not suspect suicide.
"This clearly was an accident," said Peter Braun, Caouette's father-in-law, who said he visited the location Wednesday. "He was out for a run in an unfamiliar area. He was crossing the parkway and aiming for a walkway on the other side. ... It was clear to me that he crossed the road, then leaped over the Jersey barrier [on the overpass].
"It's a visual illusion. It looks like you're looking at a running path, but there is a gap there. When you go over that Jersey barrier, you are just out there in open space."
Peter Braun estimated that trail was about 25 feet below the overpass.
Caouette's mother, Mary Gorzycki, said she dropped her son off for his run. "'This is good right here,'" Gorzycki recalled him saying. "'I know where I am.' Then he got out."
"He had a real zest for life," Caouette's father-in-law said. "He loved to take 40-minute, hour-long runs with his wife."
Gorzycki said her son graduated from Totino-Grace High School in 1982, got his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Minnesota and then had a long career with the U.S. Forest Service in Alaska before joining the Nature Conservancy.
Star-Tribune reporter Paul Walsh can be reached at (612) 673-4482.