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Sheriff warns ice still not safe after Suburban plunges into Little Detroit Lake

A suburban went through the ice on little Detroit Lake Christmas Eve. The vehicle sank into 11 feet of water and will be excavated by Tri-State Diving once the frigid weather gets a little warmer. Paula Quam / Tribune

Three people narrowly escaped a Suburban after it plunged through the ice on Little Detroit Lake around 6:40 p.m. Christmas Eve.

Katie Erb, 28, and Cody Grendall, 31, along with a child whose name is not being released, were traveling in the vehicle on a previously-travelled path, located approximately 300 feet south of the American Legion, when the vehicle broke the ice and sank into water that was 11 feet deep.

According to reports, all three passengers were able to escape the vehicle by breaking and exiting the driver's-side window.

Erb and Grandall were not available for comment as of press time, but the Becker County Sheriff's Office is using the incident as an example, reminding ice fishermen and others using the ice recreationally that it's never safe to assume the ice won't break.

"We try to remind people all the time that the ice conditions can vary at all times on any given lake," said Sheriff Todd Glander.

Even previously-safe areas with thick enough ice are subject to change based on weather, currents, springs, and other factors; and, travelling on the ice in the dark can add another layer of danger to the sport.

Gary "Seal" Thompson, the owner of Tri-State Diving, is the man who will now oversee the job of pulling that Suburban from the icy lake. He says most of the vehicles and fish houses his crew is tasked with pulling out of lakes go in after dark, when it's harder for drivers to see they're getting too close to thin ice, like areas near river channels.

Thompson says areas closer to shore are also risky because heat can be drawn from the ground and thin the ice. Cattails and weeds may affect how the ice freezes, making it less stable.

It's tough to say what caused the well-traveled path on Little Detroit Lake to thin enough to send a vehicle through, particularly with the cold front that recently blew in and made fishers think the ice was thick enough to drive on, but it just goes to show that the warnings are true: the ice is never 100 percent safe.

The vehicle isn't the first to go through ice in the area this year either--and statistics say it probably won't be the last. Thompson says his crew has taken out six vehicles and/or fish houses so far, and there are still four more submerged that they need to extract. But if 10 sounds like a lot of incidents, Thompson says last year they pulled out 20-some during the ice fishing season and, the year before, it was 27.

"We'll see what happens in the next two or three months," said Thompson when asked if this would be a bad year for ice mishaps because of the unseasonably warm start to the season.

Of course, the goal is to have zero more incidents--Thompson and his crew have enough work to do getting the Suburban out of Little Detroit Lake, which he says they will get working on in a week or so when the weather gets above zero degrees.

Using precaution

According to the Minnesota DNR, there are a few things those on the ice can do to minimize risk and increase chances of survival if they do happen to go through the ice:

• Avoid driving on ice at night, as it can be difficult to see open water.

• When driving on ice, windows of the vehicle should be down and doors partially open to avoid becoming trapped in the event the vehicle does fall through.

• Carry two, large nails to use as ice picks to pull yourself out if you fall through.

For more information, check out the MN DNR website.