Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 3, 2013

UPDATE: Father, son in canoeing accident identified


— GLEN ARBOR — Authorities released the identity of an Ann Arbor boy who died in a canoeing accident on a return trip from North Manitou Island, but were noncommittal as to whether the child's father could face criminal charges.

Stephen William-Osler Easter, 8, died Monday from hypothermia after a canoe in which he rode with his father capsized in 55-degree water about a mile from shore in Sleeping Bear Bay. His father, William Benjamin Osler, 48, also from Ann Arbor, was treated for exposure and hypothermia at Munson Medical Center and released Tuesday.

"They were caught in waves," said Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich. "The dad tells me they were hit with a rogue wave and it capsized the canoe."

The father and son embarked on the 10-mile trip to North Manitou Island from D.H. Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes on Monday at about 8 a.m. They reached North Manitou Island in their rented canoe at about 1 p.m. and rested for about two hours before they headed back to the mainland.

Leelanau County Prosecutor Joe Hubbell said he has not received any warrant requests on the case and wants to review reports from the sheriff's department, National Parks Service and United States Coast Guard.

"(The trip was) probably not (a) sensible thing to do, but before we get there (I) want to get all the information in front of me," he said.

Borkovich said Osler was a "very experienced" canoeist who filed a float plan with the National Parks Service and checked the weather before the trip. But the canoe hit stronger-than-expected winds and waves and capsized at 8:15 p.m.

Tom Skowronski, director of Leelanau County 911, said Osler called D.H. Campground from a cellphone when the accident occurred. Borkovich said the call to the campground — instead of 911 — made it difficult to pinpoint the canoeists' position using the phone's signal.

"If you have an extreme emergency, contact 911," he said. "If it's not an extreme emergency, the call to the campground would be better-placed."

It took rescuers about two hours to find the father and son, both of whom were wearing life jackets, in the rough waters at about 10:30 p.m. Easter was pronounced dead at Munson Medical Center at about 1 a.m.

Borkovich said his department is not inclined to pursue charges.

"Not on our part at this time," he said. "If the prosecutor needs to, we'll look into it. If the dad was out there with the kid with no life preservers, I'd look at this differently."