A South Dakota lawmaker drowned Wednesday while trying to save a relative whose kayak capsized off an island in the South Pacific, according to a local news report. State. Rep. Craig Tieszen, 68, was attending a family reunion on the island of Rarotonga, New Zealand’s state-run television network reported Thursday.
TVNZ said Tieszen was attempting to rescue his brother-in-law after his kayak capsized outside a reef in Avana Harbour. Both men drowned. The Rapid City Republican had served in the Legislature since 2009 following a 32-year career in law enforcement. He retired as Rapid City’s police chief in 2007.
“Craig Tieszen was a good man and a dedicated public servant, and his loss is very sad,” S.D. Gov. Dennis Daugaard tweeted Thursday. “He was a thoughtful and conscientious legislator.”
According to the governor’s office, Tieszen was attending a family wedding in the Cook Islands, located approximately 3,000 miles south of Hawaii.
The other victim in the incident was Brent Moline, 61, of Rapid City.
News of Tieszen’s death prompted an outpouring of sympathy from South Dakota officials, who remembered him as a leader, patriot, and friend.
During his time in Pierre, Tieszen earned a reputation as a law-and-order policymaker. He served on the Senate and House judiciary committees, among others.
But he occasionally bucked convention. In 2015, he introduced legislation to restore voting rights to convicted felons who’d finished out their sentences. While the measure didn’t make it out of committee, a bill brought by Tieszen last year to eliminate life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders unexpectedly made its way through both chambers before getting the blessing of the governor.
“Every year I try to bring at least one bill that I truly believe in while knowing it will be a struggle,” Tieszen said at the time. “I believe that children, even children who commit terrible crimes, can and do change. And, I believe they deserve a chance to demonstrate that change and become productive citizens.”
Before his career in law enforcement, Tieszen served with the Peace Corps.
The governor’s office plans to order flags to be flown at half-staff the day of Tieszen’s funeral, which had not yet been scheduled.