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March 14, 2012
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Fishing buddy remembers man who died in Topaz Lake

A man who died when his vehicle rolled into Topaz Lake on Friday has been identified as Frank McConnell, 74, of Topaz, according to the Mono County Sheriff's Office.

Fishing partner Michelle Vogel said she had just been talking to McConnell through the right passenger window when she turned away to check her bait.

She said McConnell had been at the site since 7 a.m., but sat in his Jeep with his two dogs Daisy and Moxy the whole time because his back hurt.

She'd known McConnell for three years going to the same fishing spot along Topaz Lake.

"Frank taught me so much about fishing and other things, too," she said. "We were fishing partners. He would call me up and give me reports from the lake. He'd been all over that lake."

McConnell would typically park his Jeep about a yard from the water and use the bumper to hold his fishing pole.

That day, though, Vogel said McConnell backed up a few yards away from the water about an hour or so before the vehicle drove in.

"He was never out of the Jeep," she said. "His back was bothering him. He was sitting next to my car and I told him I wanted to check my bait. I took a step away and then the Jeep started and was in the water. It just took seconds."

Vogel said she didn't even hear the Jeep go into gear.

"It was a really quiet car," she said. "When I turned around it was already in the water. I tried going after it but I was up to my waist in water and couldn't reach it. I had to scream to get the other guys down there and by the time they arrived it was out 20 feet."

Vogel said she knows that it was unlikely she could have done something to stop the Jeep from going into the lake.

"But in my heart I can't help but feel I could have done something," she said. "The last thing I saw was Daisy's little face in the window looking back at me. I don't know if I will ever be able to go back there and fish again without seeing her face."

McConnell's body was recovered on Friday evening and the vehicle was towed from the lake later that night.

McConnell was a well-known angler around the lake having won or placed in the Topaz Fishing Derby on several occasions.

An 8-pound, 2-ounce rainbow trout he caught in the 2005 Derby is mounted in the Topaz Lodge. Vogel said McConnell was a retired police officer and a veteran of the Laos campaign.

California Highway Patrol is the lead agency into the investigation of what caused the accident.

Final cause of death of McConnell will be determined by the Mono County Sheriff's Office upon completion of autopsy and toxicology results.

"He was the most amazing man I ever met in my life," Vogel said. "I'm not going to meet anyone like him ever again. He loved life, he loved his family and he loved to fish."

McConnell and his wife, Victoria, own a home at Topaz Lake.

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The Record Courier Updated Mar 14, 2012 11:03AM Published Mar 14, 2012 11:00AM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.