Dad Who Crashed through Ice Charged for Death of Daughter

Updated: 02/08/2013 4:27 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

His car crashed through the ice of Lake Minnetonka on January 18th, leading to the death of his infant daughter. On Thursday, prosecutors charged 41-year-old Jonathan Lawrence Markle of Minnetrista with criminal vehicular homicide, claiming he was legally intoxicated at the time.

When Markle drove his family's Nissan Rogue onto a channel between Priest and Halstead Bays on the lake, the car plunged into the icy waters; he, his wife and another child were able to get out of the car, but 8-month-old Tabitha Markle drowned. She was officially declared dead three days later. Prosecutors say she was strapped into a car seat and that Markle was unable to save her, despite repeated dives back into the lake.

Prosecutors say Markle admitted to having two beers at a Spring Park restaurant near the lake, but that after the accident, they say a blood draw showed Markle's blood-alcohol level was .13. The legal limit is .08.

Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman said, "This a tragedy. The young child died through the recklessness of her father. These are very, very sad cases. Some would ask, 'Why would you charge these cases? Hasn't the family suffered enough?' The answer is the criminal justice system simply has no penalty that can approach the grief and the agony this man must feel for the loss of his daughter at his own hand. But we do have a responsibility to do something about setting the pace and working with folks to say this kind of conduct is not acceptable."

Prosecutors say they're still unclear why the family was driving on the lake, across the channel, in the first place. Previous news reports suggested the family was trying to take a short cut home.

Prosecutors say Markle has at least one previous drinking and driving "incident" on his record, and they were looking more deeply into his past.

Markle made his first appearance in court Friday. Bail was set at $10,000.

Attorney Joe Friedberg expects Markle to be released from jail Friday evening. He's set to be in court again next month.

If convicted, Markle could face a maximum 10 year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine.

In the meantime, both the Markle case and the channel drowning deaths of 31-year-old Harland Dietrich and his 87 year-old grandmother Mary Ann Harem have prompted the county to take some unprecedented new safety steps.

Dietrich and Harem drowned when their car plunged through the ice, into 15 feet of water, on a different channel February 2nd. Thursday, in that exact same spot, the water patrol had placed bright orange fencing--along with the "thin ice" signs that were already there.

The fencing has also been installed at 20 other channels on the lake. Authorities say it's to warn people that even though the ice on the lake might be 22 inches thick, it's only 2 inches thick across the channels that connect the lake's bays.

In addition, deputies and volunteers will be passing out safety pamphlets at the lake's public launches, mainly in the evenings and on weekends.

The county is not willing to close the channels off completely, despite the fact it's on track to set a new "vehicles-through-the-ice" record this winter season. According to an email sent by Lt. Art Saunders, in 2002-2003, there were 21 recorded. So far this season there've been 20; 18 of them on Lake Minnetonka.

According to Major Darrell Huggett, snow mobiles and all-terrain vehicles easily pass through the channels, because they're not nearly as heavy as cars. Still, 2013 statistics show at least four snow mobiles have sunk through the ice on Lake Minnetonka channels in the last month alone.

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com