The father of an infant who drowned last month in Lake Minnetonka made his first court appearance Friday afternoon after being charged earlier in the week with vehicular homicide.
Jonathan Markle, accompanied by his attorney, turned himself in and surrendered his passport Thursday night. He was assigned a cell and sat behind obscured windows in the courtroom Friday.
Prosecutors say Markle was legally drunk on the evening of Jan. 18 when his family’s vehicle broke through the ice underneath the Halstead Bay Bridge in Minnetrista. Markle’s nine-month old daughter Tabitha was trapped in the SUV and died three days after the accident.
Markle’s attorney, Joe Friedberg, spoke to reporters following Friday’s hearing and said his client dove down six feet in freezing water on three occasions to rescue the infant.
“The first two he was unable to get the car seat unhooked,” Friedberg said. “On the last one he probably couldn’t do that. His hands just weren’t working anymore.”
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A blood alcohol test administered at two hours after the accident came back at .13, but Friedberg questioned whether consent had been given to extract the sample.
“There’s a case in front of the United States Supreme Court right now out of Missouri,” Friedberg said. “There are 25 states that require a warrant—Minnesota doesn’t—and that is a very contemporary legal issue.”
Friedberg went on to say he didn’t yet know enough about the Markle case to “see what side of that law we’re on.”
“I haven’t read a complaint yet that made anyone look anything other than guilty,” Friedberg said. “What is the word? ‘Submitted?’ It sounds like that’s a chosen word.”
As for the three-week gap between the accident and charges being filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Friedberg said he thought it was “about the amount of time it normally takes” for a charge like vehicular homicide to reach a judge.
Markle said little in court, only reciting his name and answering, “yes” to a series of simple questions. Conditional bail was set at $50,000. He is expected to be released before the weekend.
Two other family members—Markle's wife, Amanda, and another female child—were also in the vehicle went it went through the ice. Both made it to safety, thanks to quick-thinking first responders.
Amanda Markle is a teacher with the Richfield School District. She was not in court Friday afternoon.
Tabitha Markle's death was Lake Minnetonka's first of the season, but it would not be the last. A grandmother and her grandson drowned last weekend after breaking through the ice near the Grays Bay Bridge.
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The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office began adding additional "thin ice" signs this week, as well as orange fencing, around areas of Lake Minnetonka prone to dangerous ice conditions—specifically near channels and known pressure ridges.
Almost 20 confirmed instances of vehicles going through the ice on Lake Minnetonka have been documented this winter. After helping the driver to safety, a Deephaven man took a dramatic photo earlier this week of a small SUV through the ice near the Minnetonka Yacht club.
Less than two weeks ago a vehcile went through the ice on Carsons Bay near Big Island after hitting an ice ridge. Earlier in the day, the Water Patrol had posted thin ice signs in the area where the vehicle broke through.
Last winter, Hennepin County Rich Stanek ordered all vehilces off the ice in Hennepin County following a rash of vehicles breaking through the ice. No such order is anticipated to be given in the near future.
"There is safe ice, but where we are having problems is in the channels and the pressure ridges," Major Darrell Huggett said earlier this week. "Early on we had no snow, which allows people to kind of go wherever they want on the ice, but now with the snow pack it's a little more difficult. We don't have any intentions at this time to close the lakes or the launches."