Reporting Rachel Slavik
MOUND, Minn. (WCCO) – Hennepin County investigators say a father may have been drinking before his car crashed through the ice on Lake Minnetonka.
Jonathan Markle tried driving an SUV thru a channel on Lake Minnetonka between Halstead Bay and Priest Bay on Friday – but fell through the ice. Also in the vehicle was his wife Amanda, and their two daughters: 2-year-old Isabelle and 8-month-old Tabitha.
Three of the family members managed to get out of the water except for baby Tabitha, who was trapped inside for nearly 15 minutes.
Firefighters from the Mound Volunteer Fire Department were the first to arrive. Paul Jolicuer was one of four firefighters who suited up to save Tabitha.
“The whole car was underwater,” Jolicoeur said.
Rescuers were wearing mustang suits, which are meant for surface rescues. The buoyance of the suits, however, caused problems immediately. Firefighter Denny Woytcke had to think fast to counteract the unwanted flotation.
“I unzipped my suit to let the water in to hold my feet down so I could keep balance,” Woytcke said.
Jolicoeur did the same. Both men would spend the next few minutes underwater to reach the baby.
“It felt like we were fighting it for hours, just finally getting her out of there,” Jolicoeur said.
“Just adrenaline I guess. Just do what you need to do to get the child out,” Woytcke said.
Chris Pounder and Jeff Bryce were also suited up and at their side, ready to grab Tabitha once she was out of the vehicle.
“I was helping Denny get him down, pushing on his back to get him down. So I was basically floating behind him,” Pounder said.
Fifteen minutes after the car submerged, the baby was pulled from the vehicle.
“I guess I wasn’t thinking about being worried too much,” Bryce said.
Ask the firefighters, they’ll say it’s in the training.
“When you get in that mode it becomes second nature,” Woytcke said.
But many others, including Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, think the firefighters went above and beyond.
“They improvised and they went way out of their way to do this,” Stanek said.
The family was transported to Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia. Jonathan, Amanda and Isabelle were treated for hypothermia and are expected to make a full recovery.
Nine-month-old Tabitha is currently in critical condition at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.