Ice jockeys issued citations

On a hot summer day in August, many students enjoy tubing and riding rafts down the Chippewa River, cooling off and working on their tans. Three students took floating to the extreme last Friday, riding down the river on a 6- by 15-foot piece of ice.

“As far as someone being transported on a large sheet of ice, I don’t recall encountering that in the past,” University Police Chief David Sprick said.

At 2 a.m., two university police officers saw the students, Matthew Turek, 18, Alex K. Nett, 19, and Ben B. John, 21, on the sheet of ice. They noticed the students were talking and laughing, apparently not frightened. The students said they planned to get off at Putnam Rock, according to a university police report.

As the floaters approached the rock, the current took them away and the students were unable to get onto the rock. One of the officers notified the communication center and said the Eau Claire Fire Department was needed for a river rescue. The three students told police they did not need help to get out of the river, according to the report.

Eventually, a rescue boat got the floaters off the ice safely. The Eau Claire Police Department issued citations for disorderly conduct to each student, according to the report.

The incident involved nearly 20 emergency vehicles and 13 firefighters, according to a Leader-Telegram article. Under the city ordinance, the citations carry a $199 fine.

Sprick said disorderly conduct covers a lot of activity and behavior, usually regarding something about causing or creating a disturbance.

“In this case, the individuals put themselves and emergency first responders at risk,” Sprick said. “With the time it took the firefighters to get their equipment out, maybe the cost of a disorderly conduct citation isn’t so unreasonable.”

Sprick said the situation warranted a rescue, despite the students’ resistance. He said the time, the possibility of alcohol, darkness, the cold and the river’s current and varying depth played a factor.

“If you were an emergency first responder, you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable saying ‘have a good night fellas,'” Sprick said. “It would be in the line of duty to ensure the best you could for the safety of those individuals . It is much better to do that then to send out a recovery team to drag for bodies.”

The students, who declined direct comment on the issue, plan to fight their citations and possible rescue costs.

Sprick said most people use caution around the river.

During the summer, Sprick said people should be aware of a University of Wisconsin administrative code that prohibits swimming in the river. However, Sprick pointed out tubing may not mean the same thing as swimming.

“Tubing in the summer has become quite popular, and seems to be a recreational activity that for the most part has been quite positive,” he said. “That activity has been relatively safe.”