DNR Law Enforcement Responds to Snowmobile Fatality, Wrecks


Several snowmobile accidents, including one fatality, were reported over the weekend. The fatality occurred on Lake Manitou in Fulton County early Sunday morning, according to DNR officials. They say James Downs III, 51, of Rochester, was operating his snowmobile alone when the accident happened. Friends found him around 6 a.m. Sunday pinned under his snowmobile. Initial findings indicate Downs was approaching the shoreline, turned too sharply and was thrown from his snowmobile. Officials with the Fulton County Coroner’s Office say he died of blunt force trauma to his chest and torso. Speed, alcohol and reduced visibility are possible contributing factors to the crash, but toxicology results will not be available for several weeks. A Goshen man is in the intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, where he’s being treated for internal injuries and broken ribs after his snowmobile went airborne Sunday afternoon in Elkhart County. DNR officials say Travis Eppert, 41, was illegally operating his snowmobile on the Norfolk Southern Rail property in Goshen and drove it into a snowbank with enough force that it became airborne. When it landed, Eppert’s chest slammed into the handlebars, which in turn caused his injuries. Eppert drove home but began experiencing medical problems. He was airlifted from his house to the hospital.

In LaPorte County, three people were injured early Saturday morning in a snowmobile crash just outside of Westville near State Road 2. DNR officials say three friends were riding their snowmobiles on unfamiliar private property without permission when the wrecks happened. The crash report indicates they were launched as far as 45 feet from a ditch while their snowmobiles rolled several times. David Pilarski, 20, of Westville, suffered a concussion, broken right femur and a broken nose. Charlie Herrold, 18, of LaPorte, broke his clavicle; and Sam Thompson, 22, of LaPorte, broke his nose. DNR officials say the men were wearing helmets, which helped to lessen the extent of their injuries.

Snowmobile riders are reminded to obtain permission before operating on anyone’s property and to ride within their limits, especially when hauling passengers. Always wear a helmet. Also, off-road vehicles must be registered with the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles.