The death of an eight-month-old baby is prompting area safety officials to urge the public to use good judgement and take appropriate safety precautions when driving on Lake Minnetonka and other frozen bodies of water in Hennepin County.
Tabitha Markle died early Monday morning after her family's vehicle broke through the ice Friday night near the Halstead Bay Bridge adjacent to County Road 44 in Minnetrista. Tabitha's mother, a teacher with Richfield Public Schools, her father and sister were also in the SUV. The accident occurred less than 24 hours after the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office conducted a nighttime rescue drill that simulated a similar scenario.
In all, seven vehicles have broken through the ice since last Friday. Alcohol was a factor in at least two of the accidents, and its role in a third is currently under investigation.
A vehicle carrying two deputies with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Water Patrol also broke through the ice earlier this month near Cedar Point on the south end of Wayzata Bay. The deputies were placing thin ice signs when the Ranger went through the ice into about three feet of water.
Recent sub-zero temperatures do not mean ice conditions are safe, and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said ice near channels remains particularly dangerous.
A list of the vehicles that have gone through the ice on Lake Minnetonka since last Friday:Date Place Location Occupants/Notes Jan. 18 Halstead Bay Drove in channel Jan. 18 Echo Bay Pressure Ridge 4 Jan. 18 Excelsior Bay Pressure Ridge 3 Jan. 19 Echo Bay Pressure Ridge 1, DWI Arrest Jan. 19 Wayzata Bay Pressure Ridge Jan. 20 Grays Bay Drove in channel 4 Jan. 21 Dutch Lake, Mound Weak ice near culvert 1
- Baby Dies From Injuries Suffered in Friday Accident on Lake Minnetonka
- Dangerous Ice: Fourth Vehicle in 48 Hours Breaks Through Lake Minnetonka Ice
- Firefighters Dove In Icy Lake Minnetonka Water to Reach Infant
- Video: Nighttime Rescue Drill on Lake Minnetonka
Last winter Sheriff Stanek took the unusal step of ordering all vehicles off Hennepin County ice after a rash of accidents was blamed on thin ice conditions. Stanek said Saturday that he was not yet prepared to take a similar step this winter.
Sheriff Rich Stanek compiled the following safety guidelines for ice recreation:
- Despite the recent cold weather, channels of Lake Minnetonka remain dangerous and should be avoided. A vehicle, such as a car, truck, or SUV, should NEVER be driven through a channel. The weak ice in a channel is due to water constantly running from one bay to another bay. The friction of the running water causes the ice to weaken.
- Channels should be also be avoided by people on foot, snowmobiles, and ATVs. A snowmobile or ATV also have a high likelihood of going through the ice on a channel.
- Pressure ridges should be avoided at all times due to a false impression that the ice is stable. All vehicles including cars, trucks, SUVs, snowmobiles, and ATVs should avoid pressure ridges. People on foot should avoid pressure ridges. (Pressure ridges are compression ruptures that typically form as long cracks on ice sheets. Plates held under water can erode significantly or even melt away completely cause unstable ice.)
- Anyone using the ice –including people on foot, snowmobiles and ATVs—should use safety precautions such as wearing life jackets. Sheriff’s deputies wear life jackets when they are on the ice.