AVON LAKE — Kyle Karkoff was the kind of son who, even at the age of 23, still would leave notes telling his family where he was and when he was coming home.
On Thursday, Karkoff left his father, Darold Ondrick, his last note — saying he was going to the Miller Road Park to swim, but would be back by dinner. Police say Karkoff drowned during that swim in the waters of Lake Erie.
He apparently biked to the beach from his home in North Ridgeville, which was about 10 miles away, police said.
|JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE|
|The Lake Erie waters off Miller Road Park claimed the life of Kyle Karkoff, 23, on Thursday night. Elyrians Brandon Glass and Daniel Smith drowned in the same area last month.|
His body was found at 12:01 a.m. Friday, about 50 yards from shore near the east end of the park and the CEI power plant, police
Lt. Duane Streator said. The location was near where two other swimmers died in July while swimming with friends.
“Leaving notes — that was just the kind of kid he was. He just wanted me to know where he was at,” Ondrick said from the family’s home as he cuddled his son’s prized pet rat, Abby.
His death has been ruled an accidental drowning, county Coro-ner Paul Matus said.
“There is no evidence of foul play,” Matus said. “He went there in the past with his father, with his sister and sometimes by himself. But he was essentially a non-swimmer.”
Ondrick said the dog paddle was as far as his son’s swimming prowess extended. But he still he loved to be in the water.
“He was always safe,” he said. “He would never go farther than up to his neck.”
Police don’t know what led to the drowning.
“No one saw him go into the water, and he was never reported as a missing swimmer,” Streator said.
About 8 p.m. Thursday, the police department received a 911 call from others at the park saying they thought they saw a clothed body in the lake, Streator said.
Officers, firefighters and the U.S. Coast Guard quickly began a search of the water and surrounding beach based on information received from two other swimmers and a fisherman. Streator said for four hours, divers swept the water, which was only about 4 feet deep.
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Contributions to the Karkoff Family Memorial Fund can be made at any First Federal of Lakewood bank branch.
While the search was being conducted, police officers found a shirt, shoes and wallet on the beach, which later were determined to belong to Karkoff.
Streator said lake conditions Thursday night were pretty calm with only 1- to 2-foot wavesin contrast to the rough conditions last month when police were called to find two missing Elyria swimmers — 20-year-old Brandon Glass and 19-year-old Daniel Smith.
In light of the third death off the park’s shores this summer, Avon Lake Mayor Rob Berner said Friday the city is reviewing recommendations from the Lorain City Health Board in hopes of making Miller Road Park a safer place to swim. But the varying nature of the drownings makes it tough to figure out what steps to take, he said.
“We’re not going to commit to something until we have something to improve the situation,” Berner said. “The challenge is that all the incidents have different scenarios involved.”
The beach has a sign that warns swimmers to swim at their own risk, but there are no lifeguards and there are multiple access areas.
Adding lifeguards can’t be done without adding restrooms nearby, Berner said, and controlled swimming areas — limiting the areas where people could swim — would also have to be created.
Avon Lake Police Chief David Owad said the sandy bottom of the water near the beach has no hidden hazards, but the swirling currents below the surface can create a dangerous situation.
“Sometimes people just look at the surface conditions,” he said. “The lake conditions themselves can sometimes be hidden under the surface.”
Berner couldn’t give a timeline as to when any proposed changes, if any, would go into effect, but he said that if people are careful, there’s no reason why they should stay out of the water.
“There are inherent dangers in any body of water,” Berner said. “Is it so dangerous that we shouldn’t allow people in the water? I don’t think that’s the case.”
Ondrick said his son, a former student of North Ridgeville High School, had become a health fanatic in recent years since his mother’s death.
Jean Marie Karkoff died in 2004 from a heart attack in the family home. Excessive weight contributed to her death, prompting Karkoff to step up his health regimen, his father said.
When he wasn’t working in the pet department at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at Chestnut Commons, he dreamed of being a rat breeder and enjoyed long-distance bike rides.
He often rode to Lodi and an hour each day before work, his father said.
“He was the healthy eater in the family and picked on us for bad habits we had,” he said.
Karkoff was also devoted to his younger sister, Kerriann, a junior at North Ridgeville, said neighbor Brenda Edwards.
“Once their mom died, he really tried to be the mom she needed,” she said.
“We do our best as a family,” Ondrick said. “I don’t know what else I can say. He was my son, and I loved him.”
North Ridgeville High School Principal Patricia Bahr remembers Karkoff as a very easygoing student.
“He often made me laugh,” she said. “This is such a tragedy.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or email@example.com.
Staff writer Stephen Szucs contributed to this report.