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Ice Fatality on February 8, 1986:

Jeff Verhoff (17) of Middle Bass

 

 

Jeff Verhoff, age 17, died when his snowmobile went through the ice the night of February 8, 1986. Jeff was the son of Penny and Karl Schmidlin of Middle Bass Island. The following story of the night Jeff died was contributed by a friend and classmate of Jeff's on Feb. 27, 2006.

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A few days before February 8, the ice had turned bad and travel via the frozen lake had been suspended. On February 8, the day of the accident, a new safe trail had been scouted out but was not yet marked with trees. The trail from Middle Bass made a wide circuit to the west before turning towards Put-in-Bay and the new ramp on the West Shore of PIB. Earlier that winter, the trail headed straight between the islands.

Jeff had come over to Put-in-Bay for a party that evening. Jeff had a very good time along with his friends and many laughs were shared that night. Late in the evening, Jeff decided it was time to head for home. His snowmobile was parked at Tony's. He hitched a ride there from a classmate and two of his other friends followed along in another vehicle. The night was calm, clear and beautiful and the friends hung out for a time talking under the big old apricot tree across from Tony's Place. Jeff finally got going and the three followed him out to the ramp. As he took off across the lake heading in the direction of Rattlesnake Island his red tail light could be seen shinning brightly against the night. When the light got smaller his friends left and drove back out to East Point on Put-in-Bay not knowing they had seen their good friend alive for the last time.

In the morning phones across the islands began to ring, Jeff had never arrived home and it was hoped he had turned around and stayed with friends back on Put-in-Bay. However it soon was clear that that was not the case.

Before long a track on the ice was spotted heading towards Colby's Point at the southwest tip of Middle Bass and it quickly became obvious that Jeff had gotten turned around on the lake and ended up over Colby's Point and open water. He wasn't able to make it back to solid ice. A rescue party made up of islanders were dispatched and divers were called in to search the bottom of the lake.

Jeff's close friends, many of which were with him the night before held a vigil for him on PIB, waiting and praying that he would be found. As the day began to fade and dusk came over the islands his friends looked out across the lake towards where the rescue party vehicles could be seen. Then a Fire Dept. truck drove up and into the park. At this same time lights began to head in from the scene and it became clear that Jeff had been found. His friends stood side by side arm and arm as the first vehicle came up the ramp past them towing a white row boat with pealing paint. Inside towards the back of the boat the color orange could be seen. This they knew was their friend. Tears of the reality of the situation and tears of sadness along with tears of relief began to flow and wails of cries could be heard across the park as it all sunk in.

For some reason and nobody knows why, both the Perry's Monument lights and the lights at the Lonz Winery and the Middle Bass dock quit working that night. It was the first time it had ever happened as far as any one knew. Because of this, things probably looked a lot different out on the ice than was normal at night. And we think thatís why Jeff took a wrong turn. It probably looked as if East Point on PIB was MB, so that could be why Jeff made a hard right turn in the wrong place and went straight out over Colby's Point.

Colby's Point is the most dangerous place to be when it comes to ice travel between the islands. There are some other places that are also considered off limits, and this is why it is very important for people who don't know the way on the ice not to go out without a guide or an experienced islander. There is lots to know about ice travel...what to look for, where the currents run, how to cross cracks and what to do to save yourself if you get wet.

 

 

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Revised: 21 Jul 2008 07:50:24.

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