Kurt Hildebrand

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March 12, 2012
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Witness: Man didn't move as Jeep rolled into Topaz Lake

MINDEN, Nev. - There wasn't a ripple to show where a Topaz Lake man and his two dogs died after a Jeep Cherokee rolled into the icy waters and sank on Friday afternoon.

A trail of bubbles was the last thing stunned onlookers saw as the Jeep continued more than 200 feet off shore.

The man, whose name is being withheld pending official release, had spent Friday fishing about a half mile south of the Agricultural Inspection Station in Mono County. With 60-degree springlike weather, the lake was a popular spot on Friday.

As the sun started to drop behind the mountain, anglers started packing up, Holbrook resident and witness Richard Pike said.

At about 3:20 p.m., Pike said the man he knew as Frank climbed into the Jeep with the dogs as his companion continued to gather her gear. The right passenger window of the Jeep was open and it was pointed at the water.

"He fired it up and put it in gear, and then I heard a splash," Pike said. "It was 15 feet out before anyone could get to where he went in. I ran down here, but then it was 20 feet out in the lake."

Pike said there appeared to be no attempt on the driver's part to stop the vehicle.

"I didn't see him move at all," he said.

Pike estimated the water at 40 degrees, which made it unsafe for anyone to try and swim after the Cherokee.

He said the vehicle started to float as the wheels came off the bottom and it continued to drift into the lake until it started taking on water and nosed down below the surface.

"We saw the bubbles for a little bit," Pike said about two hours after the incident.

Emergency services arrived shortly after first reports that the Jeep went into the water, but it was too late to save either the victim or the dogs, even if they had the means to reach the Jeep.

It would be more than an hour before the first boat arrived onscene, the East Fork Fire District rescue boat. A rescue driver arrived shortly after, but it took a while to find the Jeep on the bottom of the murky lake.

The bodies of the man and one of the dogs were pulled from Topaz Lake about 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Pike said he knew the victim from fishing.

"We were talking to him yesterday," he said Friday. "We caught a big fish and we were talking about that. Everybody knew him around here."

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Gloria Tellez said the man's identity was being withheld.

An attempt to tow the Jeep out of the water was unsuccessful after the tow truck came up short of cable.

"We need to get more cable," Tellez said. "We had 150 feet and we needed 100 yards."

The vehicle had been removed by Saturday afternoon.

Search and rescue boats from the East Fork Fire District, Mono and Douglas counties aided in recovering the man's body.

About 40 rescue workers and law enforcement officers responded to the incident from Mono County Sheriff's Office, California Highway Patrol, East Fork Fire District, Douglas County Sheriff's Search & Rescue, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Antelope Valley Fire Department, and Mono County Search and Rescue.

The Mono County Sheriff's Office is investigating the cause of death while the California Highway Patrol is investigating the accident.

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The Record Courier Updated Mar 12, 2012 01:43PM Published Mar 12, 2012 12:56PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.