The father of an infant who drowned after their family vehicle broke through the ice on Lake Minnetonka last month has been charged with criminal vehicular homicide.
Prosecutors say Jonathan Markle's blood alcohol level was .13 when he attempted to drive underneath the Halstead Bay Bridge Jan. 18. The vehicle sunk in about six feet of water, trapping nine-month-old Tabitha Markle for more than 15 minutes.
Jonathan Markle told police that he had two beers at dinner, but prosecutors say a blood sample tested nearly twice the legal limit. Markle has a prior DWI conviction on his driving record, according to court records.
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Hennepin County Mike Freeman said Thursday that the legal system has "no penalty that can approach the grief and agony this man might feel by the death of his daughter at his own hand."
Freeman went on to say, however, that he wants this case to illustrate that "this conduct is simply not acceptable."
The maximum penalty for a defendant convicted of criminal vehicular homicide can be up to 10 years in prison. Jonathan Markle made his first court appearance Friday afternoon in Hennepin County Court.
Tabitha was strapped in her car seat when her family's vehicle—headed home from dinner at a lakeside restaurant—broke through the ice around 5 p.m. Jan. 18. She was submerged 15-20 minutes before first responders were able to free her.
A volunteer Mound firefighter who lives on the lake was returning home when he heard screams coming from the channel underneath the Halstead Bay Bridge. The firefighter was first to reach the scene and was praised by Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek for playing a crucial role in getting Tabitha's mother, who works for Richfield Public Schools, and older sister, who were also in the vehicle, to safety.
Jonathan Markle made several attempts to reach his daughter. She was rescued by divers and first taken by ambulance to Waconia. She later transported by helicopter to Children's Hospital.
A report released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office classified Tabitha's death as an accidental drowning. Tabitha died just after 2:30 a.m. Monday morning, Jan. 21
Tabitha was the first fatality of the season on Lake Minnetonka. Two other people drowned over the weekend after their vehicle broke through the ice underneath the Grays Bay Bridge.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office has taken additional safety measures in the wake of the accidents, placing bright orange fencing and "thin ice" signs near some of Lake Minnetonka's areas known to be prone to thin ice conditions.
Richfield Patch will have additional updates on this story as they become available.