N.Y. snowmobilers add to toll in deadly winter

file0001408183111Conesus Lake is the westernmost of the Finger Lakes; and one of the smallest — it’s about a mile across, and eight miles long. Cameron Copeland looks out over the water, reminiscing about his brother, Chris.

“He was always outside,” Cameron says. “Between scuba diving, skiing, wakeboarding, snow skiing, snowboarding, riding dirt bikes, riding four wheelers.”

Chris was 40 years old. He had shaggy brown hair and a wide smile, and he lived in a house right near the shore of Conesus Lake. One of his favorite winter activities was snowmobiling across the flat, frozen surface.

Which brings us to February 11 of this year. Chris and his friend Jason Fluet got a ride home from a local bar around 3 a.m.
The next day, Chris didn’t show up to his job as a taxi driver.

His brother wasn’t too worried at first.

“Knowing Chris,” Cameron says, “he could have been off in Florida or could have been off on vacation somewhere. Chris would randomly go somewhere.”

But 24 hours after he was last seen, Cameron still hadn’t heard from his brother, and his friend Jason was missing too. Cameron contacted the police.

Livingston County Sheriff Tom Dougherty says they immediately filed a missing person report. He says when they checked the house, they did not find Chris, but they did find a clue to where he had gone.

One of Chris’ snowmobiles was missing.

By morning, a police drone had picked up snowmobile tracks going out on to the lake. A few hours later, they recovered two helmets from the ice. A neighbor told police he heard a snowmobile engine start up around 3 a.m., take off, and never return.
By then, Doughterty says, “all the pieces were lining up, really putting them in the lake.”

That night would have been a dangerous one to snowmobile on the lake. The north end was frozen, but the ice started to break up near mid-lake. It was dark, and there was a light snow falling, making it harder to see soft spots and thin ice.

“We figured that their plan was to do a quick loop and come right back, but they got off course and went too far south,” says Doughtery, which would have put them on thin, mushy ice or even open water.

The sheriff’s office launched a massive search with dozens of law enforcement – police officers and firefighters on the ice and in boats, divers combing the frigid lake. Copeland’s family hunkered down in a house nearby, with a big window looking out over the water.

Cameron says the waiting was hard. “We just kind of kept each other’s minds busy, kind of hoping that he wasn’t in there.”

Jason’s family was in Phoenix, Ariz., when they heard what was happening. His mother, Sandy, says she heard the news from a member of their church.

“After I got off the phone with him,” she says, “I just kept screaming and screaming and screaming.”

Like Chris, Sandy’s son Jason was 40, had a daughter, and loved being outdoors.

Both men were finally recovered from the lake on Feb. 22 — 11 days after they went missing. Their families and the
Sheriff’s Office say the biggest contributor to this tragedy was likely an incredibly warm winter.

Unstable Ice leads to a deadly winter

Snow One PicSnowmobiling is a popular sport on New Hampshire’s Lake. Riders like the wide open spaces. It isn’t unusual to see them set up makeshift roads and racetracks and zoom around the ice.

Snowmobile enthusiast Chris DeJoy says it’s all good fun, but you have use caution.

“I think a lot of people jump on a snowmobile don’t realize how dangerous it can be,” he said.

This winter the lakes have been especially dangerous. Up north, on Lake Winnipesaukee , three snowmobilers broke through the ice and died in a single weekend. One victim was a 15-year-old boy.

Other incidents have been concentrated in New York State. Nearly a dozen people died on the lakes. Among them were Edward and Steve Sattler.

The brothers lived just outside Buffalo. They were leading a family snowmobiling trip at a cabin up in the Adirondacks.

“We were all going up roughly a week after they went up, was the plan,” said Ryan Sattler, Edward’s 28-year-old son.

At a coffee shop, he recalled how those plans changed suddenly. Just a few weeks after their deaths, a look of shock still glazed his eyes.

When the Sattlers brothers went missing. Ryan and his family rushed up to the cabin near Raquette Pond. There were search crews, state officials, helicopters, air boats, teams of divers. And, while all this was going on, the family waited.

“The waiting part was horrible to be honest,” Ryan said. “I think at some point I just wanted to go do something. I can’t sit here anymore because you sit and that gives you lots of time to think and that’s not necessarily a good thing in that situation.”

And, when the waiting was over.

“They told us they found debris in the water, they wouldn’t give us specifics as to what the debris was and the helicopter landed which logically we were thinking if the helicopter landed they must have a degree of certainty.”

The family still has no idea how the men ended up in the water. They suspect the brothers were disoriented by Adirondack snow squalls.

The Sattlers had over 40 years of snowmobiling experience. It’s a part of their legacy. Ryan says his family has discussed whether they should continue snowmobiling.

“It’s something that we all enjoy doing together very much,” he said. “And, I don’t think they’d want us to stop snowmobiling.”

Chris Fallon, who works with the New York parks department snowmobile unit, says the increase in deaths this winter is partly “attributable to it has not been a cold winter and a lot of times the ice has not been safe.”

And, sometimes speed is to blame.

Mark Tremblay is another snowmobile enthusiast from New Hampshire. He has some safety advice for snowmobiling on lakes.

“If you’re near any kind of questionable ice or you haven’t talked to an ice fisherman to find out if the ice is more than six inches thick, you don’t go,” he said. “Don’t go.”

Experts also say to adjust your speed weather conditions, and use visual clues such as color and snow cover to help determine the thickness of the ice. Stay on the trails, ask anglers and law enforcement about that day’s ice cover, and absolutely avoid drinking and riding.

Criminal Justice bills headed for Snyder’s desk

Snyder_courtesy_4Changes to the criminal justice system are headed to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

The legislation is meant to curb the number of incarcerated and supervised people in the state. It’s received support from the Attorney General, law enforcement departments, and the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Chris Gautz is with the MDOC.

“There’s still more to do and so we would encourage the legislature to continue down this path but we think that this is a good start and we’re appreciative of the efforts that have been made so far.”

The bills would create new programs for inmates and people on probation or parole to try and curb recidivism. They would also increase some reporting requirements. Gautz says some of the legislation codifies their department’s current, successful, practices.

Sweeping criminal justice changes one vote away from governor’s desk

Michigan-State-HouseMajor changes to the criminal justice system in Michigan are quickly moving through the legislature. A package of bills was voted out of the State House today.

The bills would, among other things, provide more data collection on recidivism, allow reduction in probation time in some cases, and programming for youth rehabilitation.

The legislation is headed back to the Senate for a final vote before potentially going to the governor’s desk.

Republican Senator John Proos is a bill sponsor.

Proos says the programs in the legislation are designed to reduce recidivism and the number of people on probation and parole. He says that will reduce crime and costs for taxpayers.

Young immigrants confused by Trump’s immigration agenda

TrumpIn President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress last week he said he hopes to switch to a “merit-based” immigration system. The details of what exactly that would entail have not yet been laid out. In the meantime, many young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children say they are confused about what Trump’s immigration agenda will mean for them.
Continue reading