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North Dakota attorney general's unexpected death attributed to cardiac arrest

Seven days after Wayne Stenehjem, the longest serving attorney general in North Dakota history, was found unresponsive in his Bismarck home, his wife attributed the cause to cardiac arrest and associated effects.

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North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — A heart problem caused the unexpected death of Wayne Stenehjem, the longest-serving attorney general in North Dakota history, his wife said Friday, Feb. 4.

Stenehjem died seven days ago from "cardiac arrest and associated effects," his wife Beth Bakke Stenehjem said in a statement released through the Attorney General's Office.

“I am deeply grateful for all those who worked tirelessly in Wayne’s time of need, supporting me and the rest of his family throughout the day,” she said. “Wayne devoted his life in service to the State of North Dakota, and I am touched by the number of people who have let me know how much he meant to them.”

Stenehjem's death on Friday, Jan. 28, at 68 years old came just over a month after he had announced his intentions to retire at the end of this year.

The attorney general was found unresponsive at his Bismarck home that morning and taken to Sanford Health, where he later died.

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Hundreds of people came together on Thursday in Bismarck to mourn Stenehjem's death at a public funeral, in which the late attorney general's sister and two close friends eulogized him as a leader of integrity and principles who loomed large in North Dakota politics for years.

The day before Stenehjem's casked was processed up the steps of the Capitol by a law enforcement honor guard and held in state into the evening, with many people stopping in to pay their respects.

Cremation and a private burial were planned for a later date.

Last Friday, cousin Steve Stenehjem told The Forum he’d been informed that the attorney general was found unconscious that morning at his home in Bismarck when a contractor arrived to do some work. Lt. Luke Gardiner also said that Bismarck police responded to a medical call from Stenehjem's home at 8:27 that morning.

Beth Bakke Stenehjem paid special thanks in the statement to first responders from the Bismarck Fire Department, Bismarck Police Department and Metro Ambulance, as well as numerous doctors and nurses in the ICU and the Emergency Room of Sanford Health in Bismarck.

At an event announcing his retirement plans in December, Stenehjem said he was looking forward to sharing more time at home and traveling with his recently retired wife.

Stenehjem, who entered politics in 1976, spent nearly all of his adult life in public office. First elected to the state House of Representatives, he moved over to the Senate in 1980, serving two decades in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

He ran for the Attorney General’s Office in 2000 and went on to win five subsequent elections as the state’s top law enforcement official.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.

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