By LEVI PASCHER
For The Recorder
JOHNSTOWN — Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino is asking snowmobilers to ride with caution when navigating the trails and lakes throughout the region.
The sheriff’s department sent out a release Thursday telling riders to be careful when taking part in the popular winter activities after six snowmobile accidents were reported this season, including two fatal accidents on the Great Sacandaga Lake.
“Due to the changing weather over the past three months together with the release of water from the Sacandaga Lake, the lake has many unsafe spots as a result of ice heaves, ridges and the exposure of sand bars or rock piles,” Giardino said. “Many of these spots are hidden by the snow and pose a greater risk to the unprepared or unfamiliar snowmobiler.”
He said there has been a significant rise in fatal snowmobile accidents across upstate New York this year with 18 reported fatalities, including 10 having occurred on lakes. He said last year there were four fatal snowmobile accidents reported in the upstate region.
The Great Sacandaga Lake has accounted for two fatal snowmobile accidents in the past several months. Giardino said there have also been two instances where individuals have left the scene of snowmobile accidents, which is a violation of the parks and recreation law.
In January, Jonathan J. Cooper, 37, of Edinburg, was operating a snowmobile on the Great Sacandaga Lake, near North Shore Road, when he struck a rock that was protruding from the lake’s surface and was later pronounced dead at the scene.
A 24-year-old Mayfield man also died while riding on the Great Sacandaga Lake on Dec. 23. Authorities said Henry D. Ross III was riding his snowmobile on the lake when his sled veered off to the right and struck a pile of rocks. The accident occurred a half mile north of Lanzi’s restaurant in Mayfield.
Giardino said several factors have contributed to the unusually high number of accidents including the nature of the ice on the lakes, alcohol, speed, reckless driving and unfamiliarity with the area where the sleds are being operated.
He suggests that operators limit their consumption of alcohol, drive slower and avoid areas unknown to them. The sheriff is also cautioning riders to be aware of these hazards when navigating the Great Sacandaga Lake, especially at dusk or during the night.
“People are going to go out on the lake and there are 14 inches of ice in most parts, but we just want them to proceed with caution,” Giardino said. “We currently have a lot of ice heaves and ridges which create big dips and even open water. Those are created because the lake levels are always changing when some of the water gets let out into the Hudson River.”
The sheriff said medical professionals have also expressed concerns about untrained civilians, moving or transporting injured snowmobilers, which could lead to paralysis or further injury to the individual. He is encouraging individuals who come across or witness accidents to remain at the scene with the injured.
“We want people to enjoy the lakes and snowmobile trails but we also need everyone to be careful so that they get home safely at the end of the day,” Giardino said.