Hunting Accident File > Safe Fishing?: > 2005

Man drowns in Maine pond

By Kelly Morgan, Staff Writer

Sunday, March 5,2006

WALES - Despite a fisherman's frantic efforts, a man died under the ice of Sabattus Pond on Saturday after driving his vehicle through a patch of open water near Marrs Point, authorities said.

Although rescue workers spent hours at the frigid scene probing the water and attempting rescue dives, the vehicle was not located and the man was not found or identified. He had to be presumed dead, said Capt. Ray Lafrance of the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Department.

The search, which had begun shortly after a 911 call placed at 3:15 p.m., ended for the day around 5:30 p.m.

"The conditions are just too poor right now," Lafrance said. Divers were having trouble with their equipment because of the cold, and there was no visibility under the water.

Rescue workers were expected to return at daybreak today and continue searching under the direction of the Maine Warden Service.

Kevin Ouellette, 34, of Lewiston, was fishing nearby with a friend when the man drove into the water. Just 10 minutes earlier, the pair had waved away another vehicle headed for the gaping split in the ice, Ouellette said.

He said they went to check a trap near the opening and see where the first vehicle would have hit. They then noticed what looked like a Ford Bronco approaching.

They tried to flag the driver down, but the man, who looked like he was in his 40s, didn't appear to see them. "At the last minute, he pounded his brakes," Ouellette said, "then he realized he wasn't going to stop and he just tried to step on it to get over."

The vehicle hit the water and floated for a few seconds. The driver barely moved. "He looked like he was in shock or panic," Ouellette said.

When the nose of the vehicle started to sink, Ouellette yelled, telling the driver to climb toward the back. But the driver reacted only slightly before the vehicle tilted all the way forward and began going down.

It sank rapidly, as Ouellette ran and jumped on the back window in a last, desperate attempt to save the man.

"I probably jumped four or five times before it had just started to settle - I had to jump off," he said. He was knee-deep in water and the glass had not cracked.

Reliving the ordeal, Ouellette cried as his fiancÚ, Tanya Gowell, 26, of Lewiston, comforted him.

Saturday's accident was the fourth on Sabattus Pond, often called Sabattus Lake, in 10 days.

Marrs Point Road residents Peter and Debbie Clarke said an ATV went through the same opening in the ice the night of Feb. 24, followed by a second ATV crash at 6:30 the next morning. The drivers made it out safely.

A third accident occurred Feb. 26 at a similar hole farther south on the pond, when a truck went through near the shore.

The Clarkes on Saturday had a telescope in their living room trained on the larger gap in the ice. Peter Clarke said earlier in the day he noticed it had gotten wider.

"The ice should be 2 feet thick," he said, but is more like 10 or 12 inches thick this year. While he and his wife boat in the summer, they've stayed off the pond this winter because of warnings from the warden service.

The rescue workers, including members of the Maine State Police, the warden service, the Wales Fire Department, Monmouth Rescue, the Sabattus Fire Department, and Greene Fire Department, gathered at the property of part-time resident Dave Creagh, who started a fire in a small outbuilding and offered people a spot to warm up.

Ouellette, who has been fishing on Sabattus Pond every winter for about 10 years, said he is taking his truck and ice shack off the ice today.

"It's a bad year, it's a real bad year," he said, shaking his head.

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