With temperatures dropping to 18 degrees below zero, rescuers in Alger County were sent to Clyde Lake to find three snowmobilers whose sleds had fallen through the ice into the water.
Conservation officer Mark Zitnik and U.S. Forest Service officer Dave Tembruell were the last dispatched to the scene, but the first to find the snowmobilers.
“We found them huddling around a fire, soaking wet,” Zitnik said.
With a stream feeding into the lake, the ice the riders’ sleds dropped through measured only about an inch thick. The water was 3 to 4 feet deep.
One of the snowmobilers had climbed a ridge to reach enough cellphone signal to notify county dispatchers. EMS personnel treated the men and officers got them safely back to their vehicle. The following day, the three sleds were pulled from the lake.
This incident from Jan. 26 illustrates the conditions officers were working under over eight days of intense winter weather, which ranged from wind chills approaching 40 degrees below zero to blizzard conditions that forced the closure of a section of more than one of the Upper Peninsula’s major highways.
“Our conservation officers respond to dangerous, potentially life-threatening incidents on a regular basis, providing aid and comfort to those in need of help,” said DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler. “However, the courage and dedication exhibited by our officers is even more commendable during times of challenging weather conditions or natural disasters.”
Conservation officers used their 4-wheel-drive patrol trucks and snowmobiles to respond to numerous emergency situations during the polar vortex State of Emergency declared by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
What follows is a review of several of the reported incidents statewide.
Region 1 (Includes districts headquartered in Marquette, Newberry, Gaylord and Roscommon) – Jan. 25-31, 2019
Seven conservation officers assisted the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office in the search for a missing 25-year old Northern Michigan University student who had traveled to the Yellow Dog River to hike and take photographs Jan. 24. Numerous agencies were involved in the search effort. Conditions were extreme as daytime temperatures hovered around -4 degrees and -22 degrees at night. Tragically, the student was found deceased by volunteer searchers three days later. It appeared he had gotten disorientated during a snowstorm and succumbed to the elements.
CO Johnathan Kamps assisted with a vehicle that was stuck in a ditch in Marquette County. To ensure the passengers’ safety due to the minus 10-degree temperatures, Kamps waited until a tow truck was able to remove the vehicle.
On Jan. 26, CO Cody Smith was heading to assist with the search and rescue efforts at the Yellow Dog River when he came upon a pickup truck that had hit black ice and spun into a ditch. Smith ensured that the occupants were unharmed and warm while waiting for a tow truck. Smith directed traffic while the vehicle was recovered from the ditch. Air temperature was -17 degrees.
CO Jared Ferguson received a call late in the evening from a fellow state employee who was stuck in a ditch between Harvey and Munising. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employee had been unable to contact any help. He had Ferguson’s cell phone number in his phone from a case they worked together six years prior. Ferguson was able to arrange for someone to quickly go to assist, due to the extreme temperatures.
While patrolling Baraga County at about 3 a.m., along a remote stretch of US-41, Conservation Officer Josh Boudreaux came across a vehicle parked on the side of the highway. Boudreaux approached the vehicle, which wasn’t running, and noticed it was unoccupied but still in drive with its headlights on. Seeing this as odd, Boudreaux attempted to locate contact info for the registered owner of the vehicle, but the car was a Wisconsin rental. While attempting to contact rental companies, a vehicle pulled up and dropped off the driver of the car, who said she had run out of gas while driving home from a concert. She was worried she was going to have to stay the night in her car.
Boudreaux helped refuel her vehicle and was about to leave when she flagged him down, stating her car wouldn’t start. Boudreaux pulled his truck around and jump-started the battery. Boudreaux followed the thankful driver to the next gas station to ensure she didn’t have any further issues along the way.
CO David Miller was on patrol in Baraga County when he encountered a stranded motorist on Bayshore Drive whose vehicle would not start. Miller was able to jump-start the stranded vehicle and safely get the motorist on their way.
While on patrol in Menominee County, Conservation Officer Jeremy Sergey and Probationary Conservation Officer Noah Thompson responded to a single vehicle crash on US-41 near Willow Road.
When the officers arrived, they saw the vehicle had left the highway, went through a guard rail and traveled approximately 100 yards before crashing into a tree. The driver of the vehicle had several deep lacerations to each of his hands. The officers rendered first aid until EMS arrived.
CO Zach Painter received reports of a roughly 70-year-old snowmobiler who had gotten separated from his group earlier that day on Lake Gogebic and could not be located. Painter was notified early in the afternoon and responded to Bergland where the subject had been seen earlier in the day. Painter located the man, uninjured, at a local bar, looking for his group.
CO Painter was on patrol in Gogebic County during white-out conditions when he located a car stopped and partially in the lane of traffic near a busy intersection. The driver could barely see out of her windshield. Painter assisted the motorist in getting into a nearby parking lot where she could wait for the snow to let up.
CO Doug Hermanson patrolled Keweenaw County roadways to check for any disabled vehicles in the face of sub-zero weather conditions. A vehicle was located stuck in a lookout area where a family had attempted to turn around. They had been unable to get a cell phone signal to call for help and were attempting to dig snow from underneath the car by hand. Hermanson shoveled the front of the car out and used the patrol truck to ram through and pack down a trail through the lookout. The car was then pushed out with the assistance of the family.
CO Hermanson stopped two snowmobiles operating on Houghton County roads in white-out conditions. The operators were separated from their group and were trying to find their way back to their lodging in town. Directions were given and a subsequent checkup at the hotel was done to verify they had arrived safely.
Still in Houghton County, CO Hermanson came across a vehicle that had run out of gas in the middle of the roadway. Traffic control was conducted to avoid collisions and arrangements were made for delivery of fuel.
COs Justin Vinson and Colton Gelinas responded to a report of a lost 19-year old snowmobiler in northern Chippewa County. Three snowmobilers had left the Paradise area to ride the snowmobile trails. Their day quickly turned to panic when one of the three snowmobilers went missing. With limited cell phone coverage and frigid temperatures, it became a desperate search for their missing friend. After searching for nearly three hours, the riders decided to call 911 for assistance. The officers quickly loaded their snowmobiles and responded to the last known location of the group. They were able to make telephone contact with the lost snowmobiler. With their thorough knowledge of the area, the COs were able to talk the lost subject back to a trail intersection where he was advised to flag down the next passing snowmobiler. The COs asked the lost subject to lend his phone to the good Samaritan snowmobiler and asked if he could lead the lost snowmobiler back to his friends. The party was soon reunited, just before dark.
CO Ethen Mapes pulled out a snowmobiler stranded in remote area of state land in Charlevoix County.
CO Andrea Albert and PCO Andrea Dani pulled a stranded motorist out of a ditch in Antrim County. They also conducted traffic control measures.
In Cheboygan and Otsego Counties, conservation officers conducted eight motorist assists on remote county roads. In separate incidents, they also pulled out two stuck snowmobilers.
CO Paul Fox assisted two motorists who were stuck on M-33 in Presque Isle County.
Conservation officers reported extremely cold temperatures during Tip-Up Town on Houghton Lake. Despite the extreme conditions, the COs were out on patrol on UTVs and snowmobiles.
COs John Huspen and James Garrett responded to a report that a snowmobile had gone through the ice near the mouth of the Muskegon River. Arriving in the area, the officers were flagged down by the owners of the snowmobile. After determining that no one was injured and no one was in the water, they assisted in the removal of the snowmobile. A nearby homeowner, wearing a pair of chest waders, offered to help. The helpful citizen stood in water three feet deep and lifted the back of the snowmobile as the COs pulled it out of the water by the skis, back onto the ice.
On Jan. 25, CO Mike Evink and PCO Todd Sumbera were on their way to conduct a patrol on Indian Lake in Schoolcraft County when a call of a missing 7-year-old came over the radio. The two COs were on scene with Manistique public safety within minutes. The girl was found within half an hour.
Region 2 (Includes districts headquartered in Bay City, Plainwell, Lansing and Detroit) Jan. 28-31, 2019.
CO Justin Ulberg assisted at the scene of a 2-car property damage accident where a vehicle was blocking a travel lane.
Ulberg stopped traffic and secured the scene with his patrol truck. He then checked for injuries and was ready to provide first aid if necessary. Upon learning that everyone was OK, he worked traffic control until the scene was cleared. The accident was turned over to the local police department for further investigation.
CO Sam Schluckbier assisted in shutting down US-131 for several hours in Allegan County. Schluckbier blocked off the northbound entrance ramp and directed traffic to an alternate route. The interstate was closed in several locations due to excessive motorist slide-offs and semi tractor-trailers blocking both lanes.
While on patrol, CO Schluckbier came upon a vehicle that had slid off the road. The driver was not injured but was unable to remove the vehicle on his own. Schluckbier assisted the driver and directed traffic until a tow truck arrived.
CO Schluckbier provided safety assistance to police with his emergency lights and patrol as they investigated traffic crashes. A significant number of crashes had occurred during a snowstorm West Michigan was experiencing.
COs Tyler Cole, Travis Dragomer, and Zach Bauer conducted snowmobile safety patrols in Berrien and Van Buren Counties.
CO Zach Bauer responded to a single-car accident where the driver lost control and slid off the icy roadway. There were no injuries. Bauer handled traffic control until the tow truck arrived.
CO Matt Page and PCO Anna Cullen responded to several accidents and slide-offs. The officers were able to assist in blocking traffic and getting wrecker services to the scene to pull stranded motorists out of the ditch safely during white out conditions.
CO Chris Simpson assisted a driver who had put her car in a snowbank due the bad roads. Simpson provided traffic control for safety while the driver waited for her father-in-law to return with a tow strap to pull her out.
CO Simpson contacted a motorist who was stuck and stranded, having tried to drive a car down the beach road in Muskegon State Park during the winter storm. Simpson was able to direct friends of the party to the location and they were able to pull the stranded motorist to safety.
CO Ivan Perez conducted snowmobile safety patrols in Ottawa and Muskegon Counties. While in route to Muskegon City, he noticed a female walking against traffic on the roadway. The sidewalks had not been shoveled forcing her to walk on the roadway. Perez stopped to talk to the girl. He learned she was 17 years old and was attempting to walk home. Her eyebrows and eyelashes had frosted, and she was shivering. She had a light winter coat on and had no gloves. Perez determined the girl still had three miles to walk to get home. Instead, Perez gave her a ride.
CO Larn Strawn responded to motorist assist calls and assisted with contacting subjects stranded in their motor vehicles.
Strawn assisted with traffic control and positioned his patrol vehicle to enhance scene safety.
CO Nick Wellman assisted on a personal injury accident where area patrol vehicles were unable to respond due to the road conditions. The crash was in Branch County. A father with two small children went through an intersection and flipped his truck on its side. The driver suffered minor injuries.
CO Nick Wellman responded to several motorist assists, stopping and checking on people stopped at the side of the road. Most were waiting for visibility to increase or windows to defrost.
CO Matt Neterer assisted the Lansing Police Department with an animal neglect complaint about a dog being left outside. Animal control was deemed a non-essential service during the emergency. Therefore, local law enforcement stepped up in their absence to handle the complaint.
CO Bobby Watson assisted in providing traffic control by blocking a road while a plow truck cleared out a drift on a hill. The drift was blocking traffic and causing vehicles to become stuck.
Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.