Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

February 5, 2013

'Giving' man died while diving for snowmobile

TRAVERSE CITY — On his last Facebook post, Steven Lee "Wags" Wagner said he was going to look at a hole in the ice with a sled under it.

"Be careful people," he wrote. "2 sleds went down yesterday in different lakes."

Wagner, 46, of Traverse City donned scuba gear and dove into Duck Lake around 11 a.m. on Jan. 29 to retrieve the snowmobile. But his attempt ended tragically as he died of a suspected heart attack. Tom Marek, the snowmobile owner, and another man waited for him on the ice, said Grand Traverse County sheriff's Sgt. Chris Oosse.

"The guys who were with him said that when he came up to the surface, he was unconscious and not breathing," Oosse said.

They pulled Wagner onto the ice shelf, began CPR and called 911, Oosse said.

Green Lake Township medics continued with CPR and transported Wagner to Munson Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, Oosse said.

The snowmobile went down on Jan. 26 about a mile south of the Interlochen State campground. Marek of Interlochen was on his way back from ice fishing when his sled went through the ice about 100 yards from the lake's west shoreline. He crawled to safety, Oosse said.

Wagner's mom, Kitty Braden, said her son loved the outdoors, scuba diving, four-wheeling, hunting and fishing. He was always on the go, dashing out to retrieve snowmobiles and boats from lakes and rivers, she said.

"He loved it, he absolutely loved it," Braden said.

She said he had no idea he had heart problems.

"He just dove down and came right back up," she said. "He wasn't down maybe a minute before he came back up."

Wagner was a big fan of vintage snowmobiles and a member of Vintage Sledders, said Tammy Yack, his "soul mate" who was with Wagner for more than 26 years.

"I wouldn't say he lived dangerously; he lived his life adventurously," Yack said.

Braden said her son's favorite motto was, "If everything is under control, you're not going fast enough."

Yack said Wagner was a very giving man. He would grow his hair down to his waist and give it to Locks for Love. At Deering Tree Service, where he worked, the crew liked to pool their tips to buy gifts for Toys for Tots. This past year, they donated 86 presents.

"He was just a very giving person," she said. "I saw him more than a half dozen times take his last $100 bill and give it to somebody who needed it worse than we did."

Hundreds of friends and family showed up at his memorial service held on Feb. 2, Braden said.

Yack said the Interlochen Boat Shop ran a memorial sled race in his honor last week.

"There was not a dry eye on the track," she said.

On Saturday, the Betsie River Canoes and Campground will hold a vintage, pre-1975 sled race in his memory starting at noon; the sign-up is between 8 a.m. and 10 am.

"My favorite people are people who help people," said campground owner Mark Magee, who is organizing the race. "Every time I saw Wags, he was always helping someone and he did it with a very good attitude."

Wagner is survived by an adult daughter and son, both who still live in the area.

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