Jacob Hinkle, 77, of 3103 W. Ohio 113, Oxford Township, was reported missing to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office on Friday evening after neighbor James Ebert called Hinkle’s family member Robert Sitterly. The neighbor was concerned about the man’s well being after he saw Hinkle’s lawnmower sitting across the street by the cliff that led to the Huron River, still running.
“(Ebert) said Mr. Hinkle would routinely take his grass clippings and dump them near the edge of the cliff to the river after mowing his lawn on the riding mower,” Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said.
“He lives on the north side 113 and he would drive the mower to area immediately adjacent Huron river and dump them over. The neighbor noticed the mower long after Mr. Hinkle was done cutting grass and it was still running over there.”
Ebert told authorities he saw Hinkle mowing his lawn at about 5:30 p.m. and then saw the mower unoccupied at 10:30.
When Ebert and Sitterly were unable to locate Hinkle, personnel from several fire departments, Cleveland Metro LifeFlight, the sheriff’s office, state Highway Patrol, department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft and other agencies assisted in the search, some using watercrafts or helicopters, Sigsworth said.
Ebert was concerned that Hinkle might have fallen down the cliff while attempting to throw his grass clippings over the edge.
Groton Township Fire initiated the search and eventually called for help from the other agencies.
A sergeant from the sheriff’s department secured a rope to a tree and walked partially down the cliff.
The report said he found a lawnmower bag that collects the grass clippings filled with freshly cut grass, along with a rake.
The search carried through the night and into the early morning hours of Saturday, but to no avail Sigsworth said.
“That search was unsuccessful,” he said. “We went into the early morning hours Saturday and it was dark. You couldn’t see very well. So (the Groton Township Fire Chief) decided to break until there was some daylight. They called the group together and we picked back up Saturday morning and started at 7.”
At about noon the Milan Township firefighters located Hinkle’s body in the river east of U.S. 250, in Milan Township, more than three miles from where he is believed to have fallen from.
“The current was pretty strong from the river and it carried his body downstream,” Sigsworth said, adding the rivers “twists and bends many times.”
It is unknown if Hinkle died on impact, drowned or if there was a preexisting medical condition that caused him to fall down the embankment, the sheriff said.
A coroner’s report and autopsy are in progress and could shed more light on the matter, he added.
The sheriff said he and other personnel from the safety forces have extended their deepest condolences to the family and community.