LUCE COUNTY, Mich. (WJMN) – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has shared details from an incident this past weekend in which DNR conservation officers assisted in a search for a Lower Michigan woman who became stranded with four children and a family dog in deep snow along a seasonal county road in Luce County.
Stephanie Knapp, a women from Wayne County, ventured to the U.P. this past weekend along with three of her children and a family friend, all aged 10-14, to view the Northern Lights. Knapp’s minivan ran out of gas along Luce County Road 407 during the day on Saturday, April 8.
Another traveler in the area, 39-year-old Brian Gorski of Allen Park, Michigan, gave Knapp a ride to Grand Marais to get gas. Knapp contacted a friend to let them know where she was and that she was continuing on toward the Lake Superior State Forest Campground. When the friend had not heard from Knapp several hours later, they contacted emergency dispatchers.
“Fortunately, this situation had a very good ending,” said DNR District Law Supervisor Lt. Eugene “Skip” Hagy. “However, it just as easily could have ended much differently.”
Conservation officers Justin Vinson and Cole VanOosten responded to the incident after they received a call to assist from Luce County dispatchers at about 11:21 p.m. on Saturday. The officers arrived at a staging area for the search at about 12:30 a.m. early Sunday morning.
Luce County Sheriff’s Deputy Zachariah Kitzman radioed the conservation officers that he had started on foot toward the last-known location for the vehicle. Along his walk, Kitzman came across Gorski’s vehicle stuck in the snow on the road. After leaving Knapp back at her van, Gorski became stuck in the snow himself about 1.5 miles down the road.
The conservation officers used their DNR-issued snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle to travel to Gorski and assisted him in getting his truck moving again. VanOosten continued ahead to reach Kitzman, who had walked nearly four miles, and returned him to his patrol vehicle.
Vinson continued down the road along the Lake Superior shoreline to find Knapp, the children and the minivan. At about 1:15 a.m., Vinson found Knapp trying to dig the minivan out of the snow about six miles from the end of the plowed section of road with the children and the dog inside the vehicle.
After evaluating the condition of the road, Vinson told Knapp that without the aid of an off-road towing service she would likely continue to get stuck and be unable to drive the van out until later in the month or in early May.
Knapp agreed to have the van towed, and the officers built a campfire as they waited for the towing service. At about 3:30 a.m., Great Lakes Towing Service arrived, freed the vehicle and towed it to the nearest plowed portion of County Road 407, located just east of Grand Marais.
“People get an idea that something seems like a fun adventure and jump into situations without having any local knowledge or being prepared,” Hagy said. “Taking a two-wheel drive vehicle into an area with some of the heaviest snowfalls in the state, that is only accessible by snowmobile or ORVs at this time of year, is a recipe for trouble.”
As the conservation officers cleared the scene at about 3:45 a.m., they were traveling to the staging area when they again came upon Gorski who was now stuck again.
Gorski said he had spoken to the towing service operator. If Gorski could not get his vehicle out, the operator had said he would help him too.
“Our officers will always respond and use all available resources to find lost or stranded people,” Hagy said.
For more from the DNR, you can check out more things to do in Michigan, including associated safety tips.
Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.
Learn more about Michigan conservation officers at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.