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Family believes Thief River Falls woman suffered seizure

THIEF RIVER FALLS - They've been told already they may never know exactly how or why Gina Anderson ended up in the Red Lake River in her hometown.

But parents Judy and Steve Lappegaard, sister Jackie Pagel and husband Jeremy Anderson have a good idea what they think happened.

Gina Anderson, 32, last was seen leaving her home Oct. 23 2008, in her yellow Pontiac. Nothing was seen of her until her car with her remains in it was found Wednesday in the river here after the water level was lowered to aid the search.

What seemed so hard to figure about her disappearance was that she left behind her purse and the medication she needed daily to keep at bay the grand mal seizures she had suffered for years.

The seizures came on fast and left her physically helpless for up to 15 minutes, once causing her to have a car accident.

"It would fit," said Pagel on Thursday, of the idea that Anderson had a seizure while driving that day.

Gina might have left on a quick errand toward Walmart, Kmart or a medical clinic on the southeast corner of the city, felt a seizure coming on and inadvertently drove into the river at a dead end at a steep bank.

"She would feel it coming on," said her mother, Judy, of what she thinks happened. "And maybe she turned off the highway and onto that road (Sherwood Avenue). She would feel it coming on and she would stiffen."

Judy Lappegaard said an investigator told her Thursday that it was unlikely a clear determination of death, including whether a seizure was involved, would be made because of the long time Gina's body was in the river.

Thief River Falls Police Chief Kim Murphy said Thursday that nothing had been ruled out about possible causes of her death, including foul play, although there's no indication of that.

Anderson's body was taken to St. Paul for an autopsy.

Pagel said law enforcement sources told her Thursday "they didn't see any evidence of trauma to her bones or her body. I think they are considering it a fresh-water drowning."

Gina's grande mal seizures would put her out for up to 15 minutes, Pagel said.

A wake and prayer vigil will be held for Gina Anderson from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday in Trinity Lutheran in downtown Thief River Falls; the funeral will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the church.

Pennington County Sheriff's Deputy Ray Kuznia became very close to Gina's family the past year, touching base at least once a week, spending hours and days searching with them. Kuznia was in a boat Wednesday and the first one to see the car, about a foot under the lowered water level, nearly a mile upstream from the city's dam.

He immediately went to shore, leaving the retrieval effort to others, and drove over to Steve Lappegaard's place of work and took him home.

"I knew as soon as I saw Steve coming up to the house," Judy Lappegaard said of finding out Gina's car had been found.

Kuznia's brother, Ben, is the investigator with the sheriff's office who led much of the search, especially pushing the idea of lowering the river level this week. Sheriff's offices have primary jurisdiction on waterways, even within city limits, in Minnesota.

The car was found Wednesday about 8 feet from the new, lowered shoreline, or about 15 feet from where the shore was before the river was lowered, Ben Kuznia said.

The area had been searched several ways the past year.

The site is about 80 yards downstream from where investigators think the car went in, down a 50-foot steep bank at a dead-end T where Sherwood Avenue hits a small road that parallels the river, just northeast of Walmart.