A 28-year-old Onamia man died after his pickup went through the ice late Sunday or early Monday on Mille Lacs Lake, near Mazominee Point and Cove Bay on the south shore of the lake.
The Mille Lacs County Sheriff's Department reported Jeremy John Lovaas had driven near a pressure ridge when, after turning to avoid the ridge, his pickup broke through the ice between 7 p.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. Monday in the area of a lake reef. After entering the water his pickup overturned. The cab came to rest on the reef and ice blocking the doors apparently prevented escape, Sheriff Brent Lindgren said.
Lovaas was the lone occupant of the pickup, Lindgren said. He had been working out of state but had been at his family's home in Onamia on a four-day vacation.
An autopsy is scheduled with the Anoka County medical Examiners office.
Though Lovaas'' death has been the only fatality on Mille Lacs Lake this winter, Lindgren said thin ice on Mille Lacs Lake is common because of low water levels and lack of snow allowing sunlight to heat the rock reefs in shallow areas.
In the area where Lovaas' pickup broke through, Lindgren noted ice thickness went from 20 inches to 2 inches in a matter of feet.
"Part of the problem is normally you'd have 20 inches of snow and the only place would be able to travel would be on plowed roads," Lindgren said. "Now people are going out on plowed roads but venturing off. The shallows, reef and sandbars are treacherous areas right now."
Lindgren noted that there have been about a dozen vehicles - cars, pickups, ATVs and snowmobiles - that have gone through the ice on Mille Lacs Lake this winter. On Tuesday a vehicle ventured off the marked road in Cove Bay and went through a pressure ridge, he said, about a half-mile from where Lovaas' pickup went through. However, no one was injured in Tuesday's incident.
Lindgren cautioned anyone venturing on the ice should check with local resorts for ice conditions and stay on marked roads. Resort owners maintain and mark roads on the ice, check ice thickness daily and are aware of changing conditions, he said.
The DNR recommends at least 4 inches of ice for walking, at least 5 inches for snowmobiles and ATVs and 8-12 inches for cars or small trucks.
Anyone walking out onto the ice should wear a life jacket under their coat, carry ice picks and use a chisel to test the ice as they proceed. The DNR also recommends checking with local bait shops or resorts for known thin ice areas.
While driving a vehicle on the ice, people should remember to not drive fast, not to wear a seat belt, keep windows open and take care while driving at night, the DNR reported.
"Don't go blazing trails," said Tim Smalley, DNR water safety specialist.
Smalley also warned ice is never 100 percent safe.
"Even during the coldest winters you can find bad spots on any body of water due to current, rotting vegetation and those kinds of things," Smalley said. "Now with the winter we're having there are bad spots not just on Mille Lacs but on any lake."
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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