NEWPORT – Jeff Bergeron probably thought he could make it across a stretch of open water on his snowmobile Thurssday. Friends said he had done it many times before, just by working up enough speed to skim along the surface.
But this time would prove to be different. For one thing, Bergeron, 19, of Palmyra, had an extra couple of cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon with breakfast. Secondly, it was late April , and the stretch of open water he was trying to cross was a little bit larger than usual. It was roughly the size of the entire lake.
“There is no ice left on Sebasticook Lake,” confirmed Wes Brown of the Maine Warden’s Service. “Not only that, there’s no snow left on the ground anywhere in Newport.”
Bergeron drowned after his snowmobile broke through the surface of the lake, the icy water crippling him almost instantly, authorities said.
“Most folks around here will be done snowmobiling for the season within a couple of weeks, anyhow,” making Bergeron’s decision all the more “foolish and tragic,” said Brown.
Eyewitnesses watched Bergeron make it roughly 50 yards out into the patch of open water before sinking.
“I thought sure he was gonna make it,” said Tina Pennock, a friend of Bergeron’s who saw the incident. “As soon as he went under I called 9-1-1.”
Rescue crews arrived quickly, but decided ice conditions made it too risky to try to step out onto the lake to where Bergeron went under. “I don’t think we would have made it out to him without breaking through just like he did,” said Newport Fire Chief Gordon Webb, noting that he would like to have called for a helicopter rescue like they do in big cities, but resources are limited.