In his school picture, Alan Geisenkoetter Jr. dons his grandfather’s brown hunting vest, a treasured piece of clothing he liked to wear around the house.
It was just like the 8-year-old to want to talk about hunting or fishing, or how he could start a fire with a book of matches with logs he had chopped with his own hatchet.
“Most outdoor things took precedence to being indoors,” his father, Alan Sr., said Friday.
So when his family ventured onto frozen Chisago Lake a week ago to go ice fishing, Alan Jr. helped out, even crawling up on his dad’s lap as they drove across the ice so he could hold the steering wheel and “drive” to the family fishing spot.
They were still setting up their canvas-walled fish house when a drunken snowmobiler plowed through, destroying it and clipping their pickup truck before throwing Alan Jr. and his dad across the ice.
Alan Jr. lived for five days before succumbing to his injuries Wednesday night.
His family said Friday that they all heard the snowmobile before it hit them but thought the driver was going to pass close by. Alan Jr. even took a few steps away from his mother to get a better look at the sports vehicle as it closed in.
“I looked over and saw the snowmobile coming right at us,” said Eleanor Geisenkoetter, Alan Jr.’s mother. “By the time I could yell at him to get away, he was gone.”
The driver, Eric J. Coleman, 45, of Chisago City, lost his driver’s license last fall after a drunken-driving arrest. The family has since learned that Coleman bought the snowmobile two weeks before he hit them about 8 p.m. on Jan. 26.
Criminal charges against Coleman were upgraded after Alan Jr.’s death. He now faces one count of criminal vehicular homicide, one count of criminal vehicular operation and a charge of drunken driving.
Icehouse ‘just exploded’
In the days since the crash, Alan Sr. said he’s wondered how Coleman even got a snowmobile given his driving history.
“I would assume you would need some sort of driver’s license,” he said.
It was dark at the time of the collision, but Alan Sr. said he and his wife both wore headlamps, their fish house has reflectors on it, and they were setting up next to their extended cab pickup truck.
Alan Sr. said he was in the fish house and nearly done setting it up when he heard the vehicle approaching at high speed.
“I thought it was going to pass right by us. I no more than thought that and the icehouse just exploded. It just blew up,” he said.
He said he ended up 50 feet away but had no idea how he got there.
“When I looked around, I had no idea where I was. Whether I slid, flew, was drug, that I don’t know,” he said.
His wife and daughter, Ana, were not hurt. Alan Sr., who suffered minor injuries, has since recovered.
Coleman, meanwhile, was also hospitalized with injuries. He admitted to investigators that he had been drinking and was arrested, the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office said.
Coleman has two drunken-driving convictions and was charged in a third incident in November in Anoka County. The state revoked Coleman’s license after that charge. His vehicle also has an ignition-locking system to prevent him from driving after he’s been drinking, according to court records.
The day after Alan Jr. died, counselors were made available to students at his school, Columbus Elementary School in Forest Lake, including his sister Ana’s first-grade classroom, said principal Neal Fox.
“He would always bring a smile to us in the school building,” said Fox. “His kindness and his generous caring for others will definitely be missed.”
Alan Jr.’s parents said Friday that they’ll remember their son as a boy who was both a budding outdoorsman and someone willing to lend a helping hand, especially if it involved power tools or a snowblower.
When big snows fell on Jan. 22, Alan Jr. used the family’s snowblower to clear the driveway. Eleanor has a photo of him pushing the machine across the blacktop, his head not much higher than the snowblower’s handles.
When his family moved to a new neighborhood in Wyoming, Minn., two years ago, Alan didn’t waste much time before walking to neighbors’ houses looking for other kids.
“We had parents from three neighbors over saying ‘Is this your son?’ ” Alan Sr. said.
The boy became known in the neighborhood as an enterprising helper. He took over the neighbors’ weed-whipper when they did their lawn. He picked up after a neighbor’s dog. And he sometimes traded fresh chicken eggs from the family coop for candy from a neighbor, his mother said.
He shot his first rabbit with a .410 shotgun when he was 6, with his father helping. He bagged his first grouse last year.
Alan Sr. said hunting at a young age and using a snowblower might not be for everyone’s child, “but he was good, he was able, he was capable, so I let him do it.”
“I never had to push it, he was always all for it. The fact that I would hunt, fish, do all that stuff and go out. He wanted every little bit of it,” he said.
A GoFundMe page set up to help the family pay medical bills has raised $45,000 as of Friday evening. An ice fishing benefit on Chisago Lake is being planned.