Ice fishermen help pull man from frigid waters

LEXINGTON — Like he has on many other mid-winter weekends, Imlay City resident Ian Kempf headed out to the ice off Lexington Harbor last Saturday to catch some fish.

But what Kempf witnessed and caught on video Saturday morning probably easily surpasses any images of fish he might have caught that day.

Kempf said ice fishing conditions seemed ideal when he and a friend arrived at Lexington Harbor at around 10:30 a.m.

They were among a group of anglers present for an ice fishing contest that ran from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

At around noon, Kempf was sitting in their fishing shanty, when he heard the sound of a truck’s engine revving.

What Kempf saw next was that the driver of a 2016 Dodge Ram had ventured too far off shore and broken through the ice in about 12-15 feet of water.

Kempf said the driver had driven out beyond the point of safety, where the truck encroached pressure cracks, broke through the ice and began to slowly sink.

A 62-year-old Kimball Township man’s 2016 Dodge Ram truck was removed from the icy waters of Lexington Harbor the day after he ventured too far off shore in the vehicle. Imlay City’s Ian Kempf captured the frightening incident on video. photo by Facebook photo.

The driver, a 62-year-old Kimball Township man, at first exited the truck and began walking back toward solid ice.

However, inexplicably, said Kempf, he turned around and went back to the truck, as if to retrieve something he had left in the vehicle.

“You could hear the ice cracking and the truck was beginning to sink,” Kempf recalled. “People were yelling at him to get out of there and come back.”

Kempf said two men, an uncle and his nephew, grabbed a rope and went to the driver’s aide, pulling him to safety from the rear of the vehicle.

After slipping and falling to the ice, the driver got up and turned around again; this time returning in an apparent attempt to access the front cab of the rapidly sinking vehicle.

Once again, said Kempf, the two men went back to offer assistance. And this time, with the help of three others, were able to pull the driver from the icy water.

“When they got him out the first time, everybody assumed it was the end of it,” said Kempf. “But when he suddenly turned around and went back to the truck—that’s when it turned into a life or death situation.

“There was probably just a matter of seconds to get him out or he would have been dead,” said Kempf. “As it was he jeopardized the lives of other people.”

Following the incident, the man was treated by rescue crews and released and placed under arrest by Lexington Police.

Witnesses reported the suspect appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and blood tests were administered by police at the scene.

The video has since gone ‘viral,’ having been shared on several broadcast and print news sites, Facebook pages and blogs.

As of Monday, the man had not been charged, though the incident has been turned over to the Sanilac County Prosecutor’s office.

On Sunday, the suspect’s submerged truck was removed from the lake by Sanilac County and St. Clair County dive team members and members of the Lexington Fire Department. After cutting a series of triangular holes in the ice, divers swam under the ice and hooked the truck to a winch. The truck was then towed under the ice toward the launch ramp until the water was too shallow to continue towing. Personnel then cut a massive hole in the ice and the truck was towed onto the boat launch ramp.

The truck had to be towed while still submerged in about 12 feet of water at the mouth of the harbor.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.