A Valley story of resolve, rescue

Man recalls ‘scary’ day at Mosquito Lake in ’08



CORTLAND — It was described as possibly the worst storm in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys in 40 years in terms of the damage it caused across a wide area.

The remnants of Hurricane Ike caused wind gusts of up to 60 mph Sept. 14, 2008, and knocked out power to nearly 200,000 area homes, leaving many of them without power for days.

The winds also overturned a pleasure boat on Lake Milton, leading to the disappearance and drowning of one of three men on the boat, none of whom wore life jackets.

On Mosquito Lake, a similar scenario played out, as the storm swept in from the south about 5 p.m., catching several boaters by surprise, including 30-year-old Dan Weinberg of Chagrin Falls. Weinberg docks his bass boat at the lake and makes numerous trips there each year.

He realizes now that he shouldn’t have been on the lake that Sunday afternoon, but he didn’t realize it that day until it was almost too late.

“I had been there about an hour when the wind kicked up,” he said during a recent interview. He decided to head back to shore.

He was about halfway between the state Route 305 dam in Bazetta and the state Route 88 causeway in Mecca, about four miles from the marina.

As he proceeded south, the storm worsened.

“The boat was really bouncing over the waves,” he recalled. He turned the throttle a little to speed up the boat, but that was a mistake.

“It choked out,” he said of the motor.

That’s when he looked back at the compartment that holds the starter battery and noticed it was full of water.

He tried to start the engine again, but it was dead.

“Then I knew I was in real trouble,” he said.

He tried to use his cell phone to call for help, but it, too, had gotten wet and wouldn’t work.

A couple of other boats were still on the water, including a sailboat.

The sailors came near enough for Weinberg to tell them his problem.

They tried to get Weinberg on their boat, but it nearly tipped over. The sailors called 911 for Weinberg and headed back to the marina.

Meanwhile, Weinberg’s boat filled up with water. It is designed to float, however, even after it fills with water, Weinberg said. He was wearing a life jacket.

“When I realized I wasn’t going to sink, I just started to float there and tried to paddle toward the shore,” he recalls. He fired two flares that, apparently, no one saw.

About an hour passed, and his boat was the only one left on the lake, Weinberg said. As he waited in his half-submerged boat, he started to shiver.

Finally, he looked up and saw a boat coming toward him containing two men. It belonged to Mosquito Lake State Park, and on board were Mike Grammer, manager of the park, and Joe Sofchek, an off-duty Bazetta policeman.

Because of the call from the sailboat, Trumbull County 911 called Grammer at his Cortland home, so he went to the marina, where Sofchek volunteered to help.

The men maneuvered the park’s 19-foot boat close enough to Weinberg to get him on board and then attached a rope to his craft so they could tow it back.

Sofchek, who has worked around the lake for 25 years and operated the marina fishing concession for 10 years, said he’d never seen waves on the lake as high as they were that day. The waves were estimated to be 4 to 6 feet.

“He was very happy to see us,” Sofchek said of Weinberg.

Grammer said it was the roughest water he’d seen in his six years as a manager at the park.

It took about 30 minutes to get the three men and two boats back to the marina, Grammer said, because they were navigating straight into the wind.

Back on shore, an ambulance was waiting, and Weinberg was taken to an area hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

“It wasn’t real cold, but they were concerned about getting my temperature back up,” Weinberg said of paramedics.

Weinberg said he doesn’t think he would have drowned that day, but he doesn’t know what the hypothermia might have done to him.

“The thing that was real scary is if they hadn’t found me when they did, how long would I have floated,” he said. “I don’t know where I would have ended up. I was definitely shivering.”

Grammer said he is thankful Sofchek was willing to assist him on the lake that day, especially so Sofchek could look for Weinberg while Grammer drove the boat.

“We were lucky to even find him,” Grammer said of Weinberg. “All you could see was him standing in the boat and the outboard motor sticking out of the water. If it weren’t for Joe, I probably wouldn’t have found him.”

“I just spotted him by pure luck,” Sofchek said. “All I saw was two black dots.”

Though the rescue didn’t receive any notice at the time it happened, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources learned of it and honored both men.

Grammer and Al Campana and Barb Neill, park employees at Lake Milton, also received a framed resolution and a standing ovation from members of the Ohio Senate last month. Campana and Neill rescued the two survivors from the capsized boat on Lake Milton.


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