By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
JANESVILLE — Family members say Clifford Coonrod was a veteran ice fisherman who always respected the capricious nature of frozen lakes.
“He was the first person to tell someone, ‘Be careful,’” said his wife, Nona, of the 72-year-old Janesville resident who died Friday when his Jeep went through the ice on Lake Elysian.
Ironically, she said a fishing buddy driving a large truck and towing a fish house had traversed that same path without incident just an hour earlier.
Waseca Sheriff Brad Milbrath said Monday that “thin ice” signs have now been posted on that area of the lake.
He said there are two aeration systems on Lake Elysian, but the area where the mishap occurred isn’t near either of them.
Aeration systems, which help prevent winter kill of fish, can cause ice to become unsafe for vehicular travel.
Milbrath said Coonrod appeared to be the unfortunate victim of the unstable nature of lake ice.
“It was just a bad spot in the lake. It’s just weird ice this year.”
Nona Coonrod said her husband had gone onto the lake to pick up a fishing friend and they’d planned to go to lunch with another friend.
When Coonrod didn’t show up, his two friends went looking for him and came upon a spot of open water with vehicle tracks leading to it.
A 911 call was placed about 1:20 p.m. and Coonrod’s body was recovered about 3:30 p.m.
His wife reconstructed the likely scenario:
“Cliff saw what was happening and he slammed on the brakes. He went sideways and the (the Jeep) went in tail-end first.”
She said he had freed himself from the vehicle but to no avail.
Milbrath reiterated the public safety winter mantra: “People have to remember that ice is never safe.”
A 68-year-old Mankato man, Robert Drengler, was rescued on Thursday after his car broke through ice on the narrows area of Lake Washington.
Last week the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Department put out a warning that four lakes in that county — Washington, Gorman, Clear and German — had areas of open water.
Brown County officials last week warned people not to drive on lake areas with posted warning signs after a car went through the ice on Lake Hanska.