Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 27, 2013

Kids safe, dad arrested after Sleeping Bear ordeal

BY JOHN FLESHER Associated Press AND MATT TROUTMAN, mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

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GLEN ARBOR — A man wanted on a domestic violence charge and his three young children were found safe at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore after a lengthy search with ground crews and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.

“The kids are all OK. The man is OK,” said Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich. They were found Monday about 7:50 p.m. on a hillside a rugged mile from where the man’s car was found abandoned about 13 hours earlier.

The 50-year-old man from the Detroit suburb of Orchard Lake was arrested on the domestic violence charge and was being questioned. He was to be jailed overnight and arraigned today in Emmet County, where the charge originated, Borkovich said.

It appears the man and his children arrived Sunday and spent the night in the woods without food, water or shelter, Borkovich said. He said they were “physically exhausted,” and hungry and thirsty. The children are the man’s 14- and 10-year-old daughters and his 9-year-old son.

The motive for the man’s actions was unclear.

“It seemed to be a spur-of-the-moment thing,” said Phil Akers, chief ranger at the national lakeshore.

Borkovich characterized it as “a rogue camping event.” He said the man’s name would be withheld until he appeared in court.

The man was the subject of a massive search after an empty car he’d been driving was discovered near a museum at the lakeshore on Monday about 7 a.m. Borkovich said a park ranger ran the license plate and learned there was an alert for the vehicle.

There was something about the car itself that caused authorities to be concerned, but Borkovich declined to be specific.

Heavy rains that swept over the park Monday morning hampered tracking dogs’ efforts to find the man and his children.

The Orchard Lake man was visiting family members in Emmet County when he got into a conflict with his wife Sunday. She filed a complaint against him, and the Emmet County Sheriff’s Department issued a misdemeanor domestic violence warrant for him, Borkovich said.

Emmet County Sheriff Peter Wallin said the Sunday incident occurred in Bear Creek Township.

“It was a domestic violence complaint that occurred at about 10:34 a.m.,” Wallin said. “I’m not going to get into specifics on it. Domestic violence involving his wife.”

Emmet authorities issued a domestic violence warrant for the man on Monday.

Authorities spent much of the day unsure of what confronted them. Borkovich said there was no indication the father and children had appropriate camping gear for a long-term stay in the wild. He also said officials considered issuing an Amber Alert for the children but held off.

“We have no indication to believe there’s any harm being done to the kids,” Borkovich said Monday afternoon. “There’s no signs to believe anything is foul at this time other than our police minds (saying) to us they should have been back to the car by now.”

“It’s not like it’s a military guy and a survival expert. It’s a dad with kids,” he added. “We don’t see any signs of struggle, any signs of violence. We don’t have any threats of him doing any harm to himself, to the kids or his spouse. We don’t have any signs whatsoever to indicate violence. What we have is either lost people or people hiding.”

Borkovich said searchers walked the shoreline, and through wetlands and inland ridges. State police and Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department personnel and dogs and Michigan Department of Natural Resources crews assisted.

Borkovich said volunteer firefighters and other emergency personnel joined the search. He described the terrain as swampy and thick with trees and undergrowth.

Parts of the lakeshore, including the popular Dune Climb, were closed to the public while the search continued.

Record-Eagle Staff writer GLENN PUIT contributed to this story.