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Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink says he is livid someone would have the audacity to steal 100 gallons of gasoline from the department rescue boat on one of the busiest summer weekends of the year.
“Theft is one thing. Theft from a vehicle that is used to save other people's lives I think raises it to another level,” Fink said.
The sheriff is offering a $500 reward for the tip that results in the arrest and conviction of the thief. He said the sum is justified due to the “audacity” of the theft and the importance of the boat that is used to tow and rescue stranded boaters or boaters in distress.
At about 3 p.m. July 4, Sgt. Paul Rottscholl and Deputy Michael Norton boarded the 32-foot Mercury McKee to respond to a report of a disabled boat near Wendts on the Lake, N9699 Lakeshore Drive, Van Dyne.
While en route, the starboard engine shut off. The officers turned around after being informed another boat helped the disabled vessel. As the officers entered the Lakeside Park Harbor, the portside engine turned off, according to the police report.
The rescue boat was placed in the water in April with full gas tanks. It was used May 17 for a dive team exercise and June 26 for a boat rescue. Lt. Bill Tadych estimated 30 gallons of gas were used for both calls.
It cost the department $414 to fill the tanks with 135 gallons of gas on July 4, said Fink.
“I compare it to (having) a fire truck that was full of water and somebody stealing the water or gas out of it. That makes it just a piece of machinery,” Fink said.
Chief Deputy Mark Strand said the boat does not have a leak, noting 100 gallons of gas would leave sheen on the water at the harbor, and the Department of Natural Resources would have received calls.
“Im confident somebody siphoned it,” Fink said. “If we find out something different, then I would certainly expect some answers out of the boat patrol operators.”
While Sundays call was relatively minor, the scenario could have been a drowning child or missing boater.
“The deputies are running out on a call,” Fink said. “They have every reason to believe the boat has enough fuel in it.”
Strand said the boat typically lasts an entire season on two 67-gallon tanks.
“We are in the bad-thing-happening business,” Strand said. “By state statute, we are supposed to have vehicles ready to do body recovery, rescue and rescue of people in distress.”
About 1:30 a.m. on June 26, the McKee was used to rescue a family from Lake Winnebago. The familys 34-foot houseboat was taking on water after a large wave knocked out the bow window, according to a press release.
The occupants, Richard Butzen, 45, of 420 Morris St., his wife, Christina, and their two children, were asleep when the storm hit, said Sgt. Chris Dobyns.
The Sheriffs Department does have a second boat docked at Lakeside Park. The 24-foot Boston Whaler “Justice” was not tampered with, said Strand. He said the thief likely entered the harbor on a boat and used a pump to siphon the gas straight to a boat gas tank or barrels.
The Boston Whaler is the more commonly used boat, but could not handle a day like June 26 when 30 to 40 mph sustained winds hit the lake.
The boats also have an hour meter and Deputy Aaron Rauls is working on implementing locking gas caps, said Strand.
The Sheriffs Department has another boat that is kept in a shed near the City County Government Center.
Russell Plummer writes for The Reporter, Fond du Lac.
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