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Former South Dakota cabinet official found dead of gunshot wound

LAKE ANDES — A man who was formerly the top tourism and development official in South Dakota was found dead of a gunshot wound Tuesday near Lake Andes, the governor’s office announced.

Richard Benda was secretary of tourism and state development from 2006 to 2010.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Rich’s family and friends,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a written statement. “Although he never worked in my administration, I know many people who knew him and are shocked by this news. As is standard practice, law enforcement is treating the scene as a crime investigation. I would refer any questions as to that investigation to the attorney general.”

Sara Rabern, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in an email response to The Daily Republic that the site where Benda was found will be treated as a crime scene until the investigation is complete, per the office’s protocol.

Richard BendaAttorney General Marty Jackley told The Associated Press there will be an autopsy and investigators will collect evidence from the scene and interview any witnesses to determine if it was an accident, suicide or a crime. Jackley said the body was found at a grove of trees.

Benda worked under Gov. Mike Rounds, who served two four-year terms and is now running for U.S. Senate.

According to information posted to a state website during Rounds’ administration, Benda oversaw the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Office of Tourism, the Arts Council, the Office of Tribal Government Relations, the State Historical Society and the Housing Development Authority.

Prior to that, Benda was the economic developer for several years in Watertown and did economic development work in upstate New York.

Earlier this month, Heartland Consumers Power District announced it had hired Benda as director of economic development. The district said Benda had most recently served as development director for Lloyd Companies and as a loan administrator for the South Dakota Investment Fund.