Eight-month-old Tabitha Rose Markle, trapped underwater in her infant car seat when her family's SUV plunged through the ice of Lake Minnetonka, has died.
The baby died Monday, three days after the small SUV broke through thin ice in a channel while the family headed home from a restaurant. The vehicle went through the ice around 5 p.m. Friday in the channel that runs under County Road 44 between Priest and Halstead bays in Lake Minnetonka.
On Saturday, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said there were indications that the girl's father, Jonathan L. Markle, had been drinking, but blood-alcohol test results weren't in yet Tuesday. The Sheriff's Office said Tuesday in a statement that it continues to investigate the incident and "will determine if alcohol was involved." The information gathered will be provided to the Hennepin County attorney's office for consideration of possible charges.
Markle, 41, was driving the family of four, including Tabitha, his wife, Amanda, 31, and their 2-year-old daughter, Isabelle, home after they had been to a local restaurant, Stanek said Saturday.
A homeowner who lives near the channel heard screams from the water and raced to the channel, first spotting the 2-year-old in the water and then the mother. He and a friend were able to pull both out of the water. That homeowner also said he saw Jonathan Markle dive down two or three times to try to rescue the infant, an attempt he had to give up when he became too cold. The homeowner and his friend used a ladder stretched across the ice to pull Jonathan Markle to safety.
It wasn't until Mound volunteer firefighters unzipped their cold-weather suits, making it possible for them to stay underwater, and cut the straps on Tabitha's car seat that they were able to pull her from the icy water. She was underwater for more than 15 minutes.
The family was taken to Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia. Tabitha was airlifted to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, where she died early Monday.
Amanda Markle is a speech clinician at Richfield STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) School, according to the school's website.
Family members did not return calls Tuesday.
Once again, danger stressed
On Tuesday, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office used the news to again stress the dangers of driving in channels and on ice.
From Friday through Monday, seven vehicles broke through thin ice on Lake Minnetonka, according to the Sheriff's Office. Two of the accidents, including the Markles', involved people driving in a channel. Four of the incidents involved people driving on pressure ridges.
"Despite the recent cold weather, channels of Lake Minnetonka remain dangerous and should be avoided," the Sheriff's Office said in a news release.
Not only are channels dangerous for vehicles, but they also should be avoided by people on foot, snowmobiles and ATVs, the Sheriff's Office said. The weak ice found in channels is due to the friction of the water that constantly runs from one bay to the other bay.
According to the Sheriff's Office, pressure ridges -- compression ruptures that form long cracks on ice sheets -- should also be avoided, as plates held underwater can erode or melt completely, causing unstable ice.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet