Authorities recover body of second snowmobiler

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Carla McCann
December 11, 2007
— The body of a second snowmobiler who went through the ice on the Rock River near Johnson Creek on Saturday was recovered by dive teams Monday.

Gerard Debaets, 40, Watertown, was found about 11 a.m., said warden David Walz of the state department of natural resources.

Debaets and Wendy Heiman, 36, also of Watertown, were riding together on one snowmobile when it broke through ice in the area of N5753 County N in Jefferson County, Walz said.

Heiman’s body was recovered Saturday and taken to Watertown Hospital, where she later was pronounced dead.

The couple had started the evening riding separate snowmobiles with a companion—Brian Nimm, 39, Watertown—Walz said.

Nimm’s snowmobile broke through the ice first, resulting in his sled sinking. However, he was able to get out of the water, Walz said.

Afterward, Debaets and Heiman doubled up on one snowmobile and gave Nimm one of theirs to ride, Walz said.

“They all continued south on the river and about 300 yards from where Brian went in, Gerald and Wendy broke through,” Walz said.

It took some time to recover Debaets’ body because the ice is thin and posed a risk to rescue teams, Walz said.

It’s important that people remember it’s still early in the season and the ice still is thin in many spots on the river, especially in flowing water, Walz said.

“With the new snow cover, it’s going to be more hazardous,” he said.

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