CONTACT:
Maj. Tim Acerno: (603) 271-3129
Liza Poinier: (603) 271-3211
January 10, 2005

Two Snowmobile Fatalities in N.H. Over Weekend
Riders Urged to Use Caution

CONCORD, N.H. -- Two Massachusetts men lost their lives in separate snowmobile incidents in New Hampshire this past weekend.

On Saturday morning, January 8, Kevin Cray, age 50, of Douglas, Mass., was riding a rented snowmobile with a group of friends on Hurricane Mountain Road in Conway when he failed to negotiate a sharp downhill turn on the trail. His sled left the trail, and Cray, a first-time rider, rolled over into a ravine and hit a tree. He was pronounced dead at the scene. A preliminary investigation suggests that rider inexperience, combined with inconsistent trail conditions, were the cause of the accident. Conway Police, Bartlett Police, North Conway Fire Department, Carroll County Sherriff's Office, and Fish and Game personnel participated in the recovery effort and are assisting with the ongoing investigation.

Around 11 p.m. Saturday night, January 8, James Couet, age 29, of Lowell, Mass., died after falling through thin ice on his snowmobile while attempting to cross Lake Winnipesaukee near Bryant Point in Moultonborough. According to reports, Couet's riding companions -- Stephen Quinton of Salem, N.H., and Eric Fitzgerald of Billerica, Mass. -- noticed their friend was no longer riding behind them. They turned their snowmobiles around and headed back out onto the cove to look for Couet, when Quinton's sled went through the ice about 50 feet offshore. Quinton managed to climb out of the water, and he and Fitzgerald attempted to locate and rescue Couet -- whom they could hear, but could not see because of near-complete darkness. Unable to locate Couet, the two men returned to shore and asked a neighbor to call 911.

Moultonborough Police, Fire, and Rescue personnel were on the scene within minutes, and joined by staff from the West Ossippee Fire Department and the N.H. Fish and Game Department for the search effort. They conducted an extensive shoreline search to determine whether Couet had been able to get himself out of the water. Finding no sign of Couet, officials determined that they would conduct a recovery operation at the site early Sunday morning. Fish and Game's dive team located Couet's body under the ice around noon on Sunday. Quinton and Fitzgerald were arrested for operating a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol.

Fish and Game officials urge snowmobile operators to use caution and common sense. "Snowmobile safety is all about personal responsibilty," said Tim Acerno, coordinator of Fish and Game's Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle (OHRV) Program. "Accidents are usually caused by people driving carelessly, too fast, beyond their skill level, or under the influence of alcohol. Combine one or more of those factors with iffy ice and trail conditions, and things can go very wrong."

"Even up north, where the lakes are usually frozen by now, there's still plenty of open water. There's no way anyone should be taking a chance riding a snowmachine on most of New Hampshire's lakes and ponds right now," Acerno said. "Each person is individually responsible for checking the ice conditions before walking, riding, or driving on ice." Information from the Cold Region Research Laboratory in Hanover shows that as a "rule of thumb" there should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel. There should be eight to ten inches of hard ice before snow machine or ATV travel. It usually takes a long spell of very cold weather for proper ice to form on waterbodies.

Like last year, ice and snow conditions have been unpredictable over much of the state. On many trails, fresh snow covers slick ice. Riders need to carefully adhere to speed limits (maximum of 45 mph on trails, 10 mph at trail intersections, or as posted); be prepared to slow down for icy turns; and stay on designated trails. According to Acerno, snowmobile clubs try to have hazards clearly marked so riders can avoid them.

Acerno strongly recommends checking trail conditions before you head out to snowmobile, especially if you're planning to ride in an unfamiliar area. The N.H. Bureau of Trails website at www.nhtrails.org lists trail conditions, and currently shows a warning for North Country riders: "STAY OFF THE LAKES - they are NOT SAFE." You can also call the N.H. Snowmobile Association hotline for a trail report -- updated twice a week -- at (603) 740-5050.

Fish and Game coordinates free snowmobile education courses across the state to encourage safe and responsible riding; classes are required for all riders over age 12 who don't have a driver's license. Most snowmobile courses are taught in November and December, before the season gets underway. Click here for a course schedule and OHRV laws.

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