VERNON COUNTY - Two teenage ice fishermen were able to escape from an SUV that crashed into the Mississippi River near Blackhawk Park on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 12:40 p.m.
Evan Thiede-Hundt, 17, Genoa, was driving a 2005 Ford Escape southbound on a road just south of Blackhawk Park on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ property at 12:40 p.m., according to the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department.
A bucket containing fishing rods tipped over in the back of the vehicle and it distracted Thiede-Hundt. When he turned to look at the bucket, he also turned the steering wheel to the right and the vehicle left the roadway.
The SUV went over an embankment, striking several rocks before coming to rest in the Mississippi River, according to the sheriff’s department.
Both Thiede-Hundt and his passenger, Cody Hobbs, 16, DeSoto, were able to exit the vehicle before it sank in approximately 10 feet of water.
Hobbs was unable to open the passenger side door and was forced to crawl across the seats to the driver’s side door.
Cody later told his father, David Hobbs, that the water was already halfway up the passenger side window, when he went out the driver’s side. Fortunately, the driver’s side was closer to the shore.
Both fishermen were in the water before getting out of the river. David said his son Cody was about three-quarters wet when he found him.
Neither party received injuries in the accident. Both the driver and passenger were wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.
The incident started when the boys decided to move to another fishing spot and called Hobbs’ parents with a request to get more tip-ups.
Cody reached his father, who said he would pick up the equipment at the Hobbs’ residence and be down “in a few minutes.”
Arriving on Black Hawk Island, David drove around but did not see the boys or their vehicle. He left the area thinking he had missed them. That’s when he got a call with a garbled message saying the car had gone into the river.
David called Cody three or four times, but could not reach him. He turned around and drove back to Black Hawk Island. There, he found the pair of fishermen walking down the road toward him. David got the boys in the vehicle and called the sheriff’s department.
In retelling the story, Cody’s mother, Penny Hobbs, was forced to point out that the Hobbs family is deep in pranksters, practical jokes and the like. So, David Hobbs wasn’t exactly sure if Cody and his friend Evan had really landed in the river or not.
David later told his wife that it was a good thing there was a thin sheet of ice on the riverbank that might have slowed the sinking of the vehicle.
The back of the vehicle was hung up on the ice initially, which may have kept it from going farther into the river. When the ice broke away, the vehicle sank and drifted submerged toward the main channel. It eventually came to rest about 35 feet from shore in ten or more feet of water.
“Thank God they’re okay,” Penny said Monday.
The LaCrosse Dive Unit was called to assist with hooking the vehicle to the wrecker. Also assisting the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department were the Wheatland Fire Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As fate might have it, the Chief of the Wheatland Fire Department is David Hobbs.
When the vehicle was finally out of the river, the boys were interested in retrieving their fishing equipment before it was towed away. Inside the Escape, they found the equipment and the minnows that had been in a bucket next to the fishing rods still alive and swimming around.
One other thing, the incident has earned Evan a new nickname. Now, his friends have taken to calling him Splash, according to David Hobbs.
The accident remains under investigation by the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department.
Blackhawk Park is a small county-owned property located two miles north of the Village of DeSoto. The park is two acres in size, and has 500 feet of Mississippi River frontage, according to the Vernon County Land & Water Conservation Department. The park is located on Black Hawk Island, part of which is owned and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.