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Posted on Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

Saline man and friend were fishing in shanty when ice cracked, sending them into near-freezing water

By Kyle Feldscher

Friends Michael Shofstall and Gerald Smith were ice fishing Thursday in their shanty on Timber Lake in Lenawee County's Cambridge Township when the ice started to crack.

A few minutes after the cracking started, the men fell into the just-above-freezing water but were able to hold on to the edge of the ice, according to a Lenawee County Sheriff’s Office official.


Two men fell into the water while ice fishing Thursday on Timber Lake in Northern Lenawee County. Michael Shofstall, 62, of Saline died. His friend, Gerald Lee Smith, 62, of Grass Lake went to a Toledo hospital. photo

At some point, Shofstall — a 62-year-old Saline resident — slipped and dropped beneath the surface of the water, Lt. Jeff Ewald said. A dive crew pulled Shofstall from the water at 1:20 p.m., about an hour and a half after emergency crews were sent to the scene, reported.

Smith, a 62-year-old man from Grass Lake, held on for half an hour before he could be rescued. MLive spoke Friday with one of the men who pulled Smith from the water. It was not clear how long the men had been fishing before the ice started cracking.

“The best information we have is that they went through the ice and he (Shofstall) slipped,” Ewald said. “The second guy (Smith) held on for 30 minutes or so.”

Ewald said Shofstall was found in 18 feet of water, the temperature of which was just above freezing. The air temperature at the time of the accident was 26 degrees F.

Shofstall was pronounced dead at Allegiance Health in Jackson, where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Smith continues to recover at University of Toledo Medical Center in Ohio. Ewald said he was improving Friday afternoon. An attempt to reach Shofstall's family was not successful Friday.

The two men were the only ones out on the ice at the time of the accident, Ewald said. However, there are holes drilled in the ice closer to shore, showing where other ice fishermen have been out on Timber Lake so far this year. Ewald said the area where Shofstall and Smith were fishing was about 80 yards off shore and was easily the most distant hole they’d found in the ice.

The ice was about two inches thick where the accident took place. Ewald told MLive that four inches is the generally recognized threshold for ice fishing. Anything less than that is considered dangerous.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources released a statement Friday urging ice fishermen to take precautions when venturing out onto the ice. Fisherman are urged to beware of any ice covered by snow, carry a spud to check the quality of the ice and wear a personal flotation device.

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Sun, Jan 6, 2013 : 11:57 p.m., is there a standard formula you use to determine what stories show up in the "above the fold" as headline links near the top of your home page? I'm curious, because I sometimes see stories that are 1) more recent, and 2) have more comments, dropped from that area.

Kyle Mattson

Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 1:53 p.m.

Hi RUK- The top stories section mostly contains what recent stories are being most read or discussed at a given time, the rest of the page flows through by publish time.


Sun, Jan 6, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

Very sad story. Feel badly for Michael's family. Kyle, as a former news reporter maybe I'm being a bit of a stickler about this, but the news is that someone died while ice fishing. That should be in both the headline and the lead. I didn't learn of anyone's death until the 7th paragraph. Sorry, I don't mean to call you out . . . just trying to be helpful.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:28 a.m.

Ah. So I read it in the Sunday print paper, which did not refer the previous story, I do not believe. Hence the confusion. In the print version, I was surprised to see it did not come up until 7th graf. Was not clear it was a second-day story.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

southsiderez: As a2girl pointed out, this story was a follow up to an earlier story about the incident. In this particular story, I was looking to provide more information about the accident and the circumstances that led to Mr. Shofstall's death.


Sun, Jan 6, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

Southsiderez: This was a follow up story of a previous one. Which is stated in the first line of the story.


Sun, Jan 6, 2013 : 12:31 a.m.

I don't really know anything about ice fishing, but perhaps they should tether themselves to the shore somehow with a rope, maybe tied to a tree or ??? I don't know, but having something to hang onto and use to pull themselves out, or have others pull them out with could help. I'm thinking that life jackets wouldn't help much if they are swept under the ice because there would be nowhere to get air anyway even if they were held to the top.


Sun, Jan 6, 2013 : 1:16 a.m.

You're right Sue, life jackets have their flaws. Moreover, tying themselves to trees wouldn't work because the nearest tree is far away when you're out on the ice. Our friends from Wisconsin can tell you all you need to know about ice fishing in this brief and helpful video: ICE FISH BABY! My heart goes out to the victims, but I'd rather die doing something I love than in some other way. And no matter how much legislation is passed, we're all going to die someday too. (I'm pretty sure...)


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

Life jackets won't help with freezing water. It would only ensure that your body is still floating after you have died of hypothermia. If you recall your history, many of the Titanic victims were found frozen to death still wearing their life jackets.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 6:05 p.m.

A shanty on 2" of ice? While not carrying any ice picks?


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 5:24 p.m.

Why don't people pull a raft or small boat with them while walk-fishing on the ice ? They even have inflatable rafts now. How people can just walk on out there with a peace of mind I got no idea.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

More legislation?? We can't expect the government to protect us from everything! How about fines for eating too much fast food or spending too much time in the sun???


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 5:28 p.m.

Hush, they might get the idea, lol

Frank Lee

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

I am sorry to hear of this news. I have no idea what safety measures were in place, but I would like to inform you of one of the best. Never go ice fishing without a set of ice picks! Expecting an ice fisherman to wear a life jacket on top of their winter gear is not practical and does nothing to remove them from the water. Mind you, we don't even require people to wear life jackets on open water in the summer time. You need ice picks so that you can get a "bite" on the edge of the ice and pull yourself out. Without them, you are left trying to pull all of your body weight and wet gear out of the water by grasping wet ice. That is nearly an impossible feat. The ice safety picks can be worn around the neck and lock together. Some models even have a whistle attached so that you can signal for help. Before I found a pair in the store, I would wear two screwdrivers tied together at their handles. I have provided a link to a pair of ice picks at Cabelas for $5. It's the best investment an ice fisherman can make!


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

What if the ice right near you keeps breaking. You got only a min or so before your body will start shutting down--your arms will stop working-slow way down. If I went out there in early winter or spring, I would not feel safe without a wet suit.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.

I say, never go fishing unless you KLNOW the ICE is Thick enough. THat is the begining of the Safety Rules!! If not, don't trust your luck!!

Frank Lee

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

I now see that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recommends ice spikes in the statement they released, but this article stops just short of quoting them. Buy or make a pair before the next time you go out on the ice.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 1 p.m.

The suggestion that anyone ice fishing where a life jacket is a good idea.There are vest now that are not like the old bulky orange ones that used to be the only choice. Passing a law that requires them is not the answer. The best solution may be for family and friends to pressure the fisherman to be safe and stay off the ice when it might be questionable. However as one who has fallen through the ice when there were trucks on the lake recommended thicknesses do not always work.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 5:04 a.m.

I lived on a lake for more than 13 years. We always errored on the side of caution - waiting until the ice was at least 6-8 inches thick. One should also be sure to know the lake that they are going out on. Particularly natural lakes may have springs feeding the lake from below. This keeps water moving under the ice and creates much thinner ice in those areas. Such areas can often show themselves (but not always) as darker areas whether or not there is snow on the ice. So even if the ice is more than thick enough to be safe when one does a test drill near the shore, it may not be safe everywhere on the lake. Always best to error heavily on the side of caution when going out on a frozen body of water. Even when one does not drown when the ice gives way, hypothermia from going through too often does not allow for second chances. Very sad.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 12:56 a.m.

Pass a law with large fines so this never happens again...................

music to my ear

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 2:28 a.m.

yes life jacket. saves lives great Ideal but most ice fishers men dont like to wear them. we never think it will happen to us. prayers to his family.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 1:34 a.m.

If passing a law with large fines would mean this never happens again, then I agree with you. But it will happen again, and you're suggesting giving government control over when the ice is thick enough to go ice fishing. I don't share your faith in government as a solution to the problem of people falling through the ice. How bout requiring life jackets when ice fishing?


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 11:37 p.m.

Tragic, but we have not yet had enough cold weather for anyone to be out on the ice like that. There have already been a series of mishaps on larger lakes.