Former princeton public works director dies in crash

Eugene “Gene” Zeroth, who many remember as the Princeton city public works superintendent for many years, died in a vehicular collision Saturday, Sept. 29.

In recent years Zeroth was known as a man with a disability riding an electric scooter around Princeton.

Zeroth died in the Bigfork, Dora Lake area in Itasca County in northern Minnesota from injuries received when a motor vehicle hit the Rascal electric scooter Zeroth was driving, according to the Itasca County Sheriff’s office. Zeroth, 78, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Zeroth worked at Princeton Public Works for about 30 years, which was known during Zeroth’s time there as the street department.

Zeroth was with the department from 1962 into 1994, serving a long stretch as the department’s superintendent and ending up as laborer in his last approximately eight years there, according to city hall records.

Tom Mismash, a former superintendent of the department who worked with Zeroth, said he was sorry to hear of the loss.

“Gene was a prince of a fella,” Mismash said. “One of the nicest guys I ever met.”

Mismash said Zeroth did an excellent job explaining all the things that Mismash had to know to run the department.

Jerry Bieringer, who Zeroth hired onto the department in 1972 for what Bieringer thought would be just the winter season but ended up to be 30 years, called Zeroth “a good guy to work for,” and a “helluva a good man,” who “done the city a lot of good.”

The street department’s shop at the time of Bieringer’s hiring was an old downtown building that stood where the Scott Berry Law Offices building now stands.

“It’s too bad,” Bieringer said of Zeroth’s death. “I miss him. I used to run into him every once in a while. That stroke really didn’t slow him down. He’d pick cans out of a ditch (while on his electric scooter).”

It wasn’t but a few years after Zeroth retired from the city, that he had his stroke that affected his ability to walk. It was then that Zeroth took to riding around town on an electric scooter called a Rascal.

Zeroth was very active outdoors prior to his disability. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, four-wheeling and snowmobiling. Family members described him as the “adventurous type” who preferred scenic routes and liked checking out trails.

Zeroth was on his scooter when he died.

The sheriff’s office said Zeroth drove his electric scooter off the Dora Lake access road into the traffic lane of a northbound motor vehicle on County Road 29 at midday, resulting in the motor vehicle hitting him. The call to the sheriff’s department was at about 12:16 p.m. and deputies, along with the Bigfork ambulance, Squaw Lake First Responders and Squaw Lake Fire Department responded.

Itasca County Sheriff’s investigators reported that neither alcohol nor speed were factors in the crash.

Zeroth, whose funeral is Friday, leaves behind wife Arlene and four grown children.