By JO ANN HUSTIS
LACON, Ill. — This small Illinois community was shocked at the accidental drowning Jan. 8 of a local lifelong farmer and his friend while ice fishing in his rather remotely located manmade pond in rural Marshall County.
Authorities discovered the bodies of Gary P. Hyatt, 68, of Lacon, and Thomas R. Marchesi, 62, of Toluca, beneath the ice in the pond. The discovery followed a call by a family member to the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department at about 7:30 p.m., after the two failed to return from their ice fishing expedition.
“One of the families was starting to miss them and wondered where they were at,” Marshall County Sheriff Robert Russell noted Monday. “One of the sons went out and saw one of the guy’s truck there (at the pond) and nobody around, so they called us.”
The pond is one of several in a rural Lacon location about four miles southeast of Henry. “A secluded pond that’s been there about 20 years or so, and used for recreation purposes,” is how Russell described it. “It is a farm pond that’s pretty much out in nowhere, with timber nearby.”
Upon their arrival, deputies shone spotlights over the pond and discovered the hole in the ice where the men had gone through. The Lacon Fire Department was notified and the bodies recovered about an hour after the discovery. Both bodies were found floating beneath the ice. The hole was enlarged by the rescuers to retrieve the two victims.
“One of them was easy to find, and the other was a little harder to find,” the sheriff said Monday. “As far as to who went in first, we’ll never know.”
Authorities also have no way of knowing if one victim accidentally broke through the ice first and the other broke through while trying to rescue him – “or what,” Russell said. “That we’ll never know.”
The hole the two broke through was the only one in the ice. The pond was about 20 feet deep and the ice, about three inches thick. Russell said the two had gone ice fishing in the pond several times in the previous few days.
“This time,” he said, “they went back in the afternoon, and that’s what happened. Bad timing.”
The temperature was in the mid-40s the day of the incident. Russell did not know if the warmer weather might have been a factor. “Ice is really unpredictable,” he said. “It may appear firm, but that’s not always the case.”
The incident was the area’s first fatalities involving ice fishing, Russell noted. Marshall County is divided in the middle by the Illinois River, and warm-weather incidents do occur there, he said.
“But I’ve been here 23 years and I don’t recall any fatalities by drowning as far as ice is concerned,” he added. “We have our share of accidents out there (on the river) in the summertime, but it’s more boating accidents.”
The incident remains under investigation by the Marshall County sheriff’s and coroner’s offices. Also assisting at the scene were the Henry Fire and Rescue Squad and the Henry and Lacon-Sparland ambulance services.
Funeral services for Marchesi, a native of Streator and a lifelong farmer, were Monday at the Lenz Memorial Home in Lacon. Services for Hyatt, a former Pekin resident, were Saturday at the Lenz Memorial Home.
Hyatt was a retired maintenance worker in the fuel industry, including Aventine, Corn Products, Pekin Energy and Williamms. Survivors include his wife, Paula Sue; sons Scott (Jeanette) of Omaha, Neb., and Randy of Mantino, Ill.; brother Fred (Mary) of Spring Lake, Ill.; and eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
In addition to farming, Marchesi had worked at RF Jolliff & Son. Survivors include his wife, Chris; sons Brian of Lacon and Andy of Scottsdale, Ariz.; daughter Jill Marchesi and fiancé, Kevin Sidell; sisters Kim (Gary) Ferguson of Normal, Winny (Cliff) Johnson of Morris and Rebecca (Larry) Flink of Cedarburg, Wis.; and two grandchildren.