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Published: Monday, 7/15/2002

Body of 4th rescuer is found offshore

HURON, Ohio - Searchers yesterday found the body of a fourth swimmer who drowned while trying to rescue a friend from rough waves in Lake Erie.

The man's body was found near the mouth of the Huron River by a city police officer about 5:30 a.m., shortly after recovery efforts resumed for the day, Huron fire Lt. Mike Hohler said. About 20 minutes later, Huron firefighters in a boat removed the body from the water about 400 yards from the shore.

The bodies of three other men were recovered Saturday in the same area of the lake, about a quarter-mile west of where the four swimmers disappeared Wednesday. The water there is about 25 feet deep.

Lieutenant Hohler would not identify the bodies but said authorities are “reasonably sure” they are those of Jehrod Smith, 19, of Sandusky and Kyle Kroetz, 29, Matthew Smith, 21, and Steve Cupec, 27, all of Findlay.

The bodies were taken to the Lucas County coroner's office for autopsies. Authorities planned to use dental records to help confirm their identities.

The four disappeared after plunging into the lake in an attempt to save Mr. Cupec's fiance , Amy Anderson, 22, as she struggled against five-foot waves and strong currents off Nickel Plate Beach. Ms. Anderson was pulled safely to shore by Huron firefighter Monty Tapp and local resident Justin Decker, 17.

The high waves and powerful currents forced rescue workers to suspend their search for the men Wednesday evening and all day Thursday. Firefighters used sonar equipment without success during seven hours of searching Friday.

Lieutenant Hohler said the firefighters were weary and relieved the search was over.

“It's a good feeling to have it over, have the recovery made, give the family some closure,” he said. “And in a sense, it gave the fire department some closure.”

Edward Kroetz, the father of Kyle Kroetz, praised the work of the Huron rescue crews.

“We're just glad that they got them all back,” he said. “We really appreciate all that the fire department and the rescue squads did for us. They were very kind, very helpful.”

Mr. Kroetz, his wife, Sandra, and other family members were on the beach Saturday when the body they believe is their son's was pulled from the calmed-down lake.

“We were there when they brought one of them up. ... We knew who it was,” he said.

Frank Smith, the father of Matthew Smith, said he was asked Saturday to identify one of the three bodies pulled from the lake.

“We do realize that all four bodies have been recovered, and I feel that the body that we were exposed to was my son,” he said.

Mr. Smith said he finds some comfort knowing that Matthew died trying to save a friend.

“He went the way the Lord did,” Mr. Smith said. “He gave his life so that someone else could live.”

With the bodies recovered, the families began the sad task of planning funerals.

Mr. Smith said a memorial service at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Liberty-Benton High School will probably serve as his son's funeral. Matthew Smith, who graduated from Liberty-Benton in 2000, won the state championship in the 110-meter high hurdles that year.

Services for Mr. Kroetz are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Mann-Hare Funeral Home, Fostoria. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at the funeral home.

Mr. Kroetz, who worked at the Wal-Mart superstore in Findlay, graduated from Fostoria High School in 1990. He served in Findlay's National Guard unit and was discharged in 1996.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete for Jehrod Smith and Mr. Cupec.



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