One man seen riding a casket cover in the Red River on Sunday could have suffered grave consequences if law enforcement hadn't put a lid on his dangerous activities.
Cass County deputies received a report at 10:15 a.m. that a man was riding a "makeshift kayak" in the Red River south of town. He had been spotted by a resident who lived in a development at 100th Avenue South, off County Road 81, said Joel Stading, a Cass County sheriff's detective.
Deputies, Coast Guard members and Department of Natural Resources personnel checked the area but couldn't find him on the water.
They located him staying at a riverside residence in rural Moorhead. At that time, they learned his "boat" was really a fiberglass casket cover, about 2 feet deep. It didn't look like the actual lid to a coffin, but was casket-shaped and looked like it might have been used to protect a wood casket, Stading said.
"Apparently, it had washed up in his yard in the flood of '97," Stading says. "He had several of them and said he had used them for things like planting flowers."
The man, described as a 49-year-old Detroit Lakes man named Charlie, was piloting the coffin-craft with homemade oars but was not wearing a personal flotation device, according to deputies. Computer problems on Sunday night kept them from accessing the incident file, so they did not have Charlie's full name.
Due to dangerous flood conditions, people caught piloting a boat - even one not originally intended for the funeral industry - could be subject to a $40,000 fine.
The Coast Guard "takes it pretty seriously. That's why the fines are so hefty," said Clay County Deputy Mark Empting.
But after Coast Guard members spoke with the renegade captain, they found him extremely apologetic.
"He did not know he could not do that. He did not know the river was essentially shut down," Empting said. "With his attitude and demeanor, the Coast Guard deemed it appropriate to give him a warning."
Charlie's fun may be over, but he seemed to have enjoyed his past casket cruises.
"He felt very comfortable using this as a watercraft," Stading said. "He said they float really well."