By Margie Wuebker
A night of fun zipping along snow-covered fields ended tragically early today in a field west of Rockford.
Joshua D. Brandt, 20, 3731 Mercer-Van Wert County Line Road, Willshire, died during surgery at Parkview Memorial Hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind., after being critically injured while driving a snowmobile.
The accident occurred at 12:05 a.m. as Brandt attempted to cross a creek in a field off Winkler Road, east of Jordan Road, in Blackcreek Township.
The 2002 Bombardier struck the east bank catapulting Brandt and his passenger, Brent A. Mosier, 20, 5695 Fast Road, Celina, into the field. Two other snowmobiles, part of a group of vehicles driven by friends and former classmates, landed in the creek, according to Mercer County Sheriff's Office reports.
The investigating officer estimated Brandt's vehicle was traveling 80 miles per hour at the time of the accident. Brandt, a 2002 Parkway High School graduate, was taken by ambulance to Van Wert County Hospital and later transferred by helicopter to the Fort Wayne hospital.
Mosier also was taken to Van Wert and later released. He and other friends then drove to the Fort Wayne hospital to keep a vigil with family members.
One of the snowmobilers who landed in the creek also was taken by ambulance to Van Wert, but the sheriff's office had no information regarding his identity. No information was available on the other snowmobilers as of press time today.
"Josh and Brent have been friends since their junior high days at Parkway," Brent Mosier's mother, Joyce, told The Daily Standard this morning. "Brent came home from college Thursday morning, put his belongings in the house and accompanied Josh to Fort Wayne. Josh wanted to get Christmas presents for his family."
Brandt, the son of Larry and Jackie Brandt, reportedly worked at Thunderbird in Decatur, Ind. He has a younger sister, Bobbie.
Along with the local fatality, authorities reported three people died in separate car accidents in central and northern Ohio, and a fourth person died of an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow during the snowstorm.
The level two snow emergency was lifted from Mercer County this morning. All roads were reported passable in both Mercer and Auglaize counties.
A spokesperson for the State Highway Patrol Post in Wapakoneta said there have been 11 crashes in their coverage area during the past two days. None involved Auglaize or Mercer County residents, as all were out-of-towners from Georgia, Florida, Michigan and Indiana traveling on I-75.
Al Solomon of the Auglaize County Sheriff's Office reported no serious accidents in the county Thursday, but said many cars had slid off into ditches. The only multi-vehicle accident occurred shortly after 11 a.m. when two semi-trailers met in a head-on collision that resulted in no injuries at the intersection U.S. 33. A gas line also broke off in the New Bremen-Minster area that caused no major problems, he said.
Electric companies said over 321,000 homes and businesses were without power across Ohio as of late Thursday. There were no power outages reported locally.
Many doctor's offices, factories and even banks closed Thursday due to snow-covered roads and employees not being able to get into work. But a foot or so of snow didn't deter shoppers.
Celina Wal-mart Co-Manager Rudy Puchan said after 10 a.m. Thursday "everything broke loose."
"Typically we don't have too many folks in real early, but this morning (Friday) there was already a half lot full of cars," said Puchan, adding the store will be open until 6 p.m. tonight.
In St. Marys, Peggy Martin, store manager for J.C. Penney in St. Marys Square, said the parking lot started filling up around noon Thursday. The store opened an hour late, at 8 a.m., due to the snow and was very busy from noon to 10 p.m., she said.
"It couldn't have opened at all if it weren't for our brave associates," Martin said, adding it already looks busy for today and will be open until 10 p.m.
While little additional snow was forecast, Myron Padgett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said temperatures were expected to plummet to zero in parts of the state by Christmas Day.
Celina Police Chief Dave Slusser encourages local residents to dig out any vehicles that have been plowed in as street crews worked to clear local streets.
"With the temperature dropping to below zero tonight, those vehicles will freeze in place if they are not moved," he warned.
Southwest Ohio appeared to be the hardest hit area. Padgett said Darke County was hit with two feet of snow Wednesday while authorities reported a record 16 inches in Dayton.
Heavy snow in Bellefontaine about an hour northwest of Columbus blocked streets and prevented residents from leaving their houses. The National Weather Service said the area was hit with up to 20 inches of snow.
''It is 100 percent snowed in,'' said Jack Ackerman, 75, a retired grocery store owner whose patio was covered by a five-foot drift. ''It would be almost impossible to get out and be able to do anything.''
Flights were delayed or canceled at airports in Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati as crews struggled to clear runways and de-ice planes. Some passengers stranded at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport split the cost of hiring buses to take them to airports in Louisville and Lexington, Ky.
Three airlines at Port Columbus Airport -- United Airlines, Continental Airlines and U.S. Airways -- ran out of de-icer fluid Thursday afternoon and were hoping to receive more by early this morning, said airport spokeswoman Angie Neal. The shortage caused numerous delays and cancellations.
In Cincinnati, Delta Air Lines and its regional Comair subsidiary also ran critically low on de-icer fluid, which contributed to delays and cancellations, said Don Bornhorst, a Comair vice president, speaking for both carriers. Comair canceled most of its Thursday flights.
In northeast Ohio, the Akron Beacon Journal printed The (Wooster) Daily Record early today after the Wayne County newspaper's plant lost power Thursday. Lance White, managing editor of The Daily Record, said the newsroom was unaffected because it is in a different location from the printing plant.
Authorities reported about 100 people without power went to emergency shelters in Clermont County, just east of Cincinnati.
Rick Scott, the mass care coordinator for the American Red Cross of Greater Columbus, said they had 111 people at two shelters in central Ohio on Thursday night. He said they were providing food and snacks.
''People are making an adventure out of it,'' Scott said. ''That's all you can do.''
-- The Associated Press and Daily Standard reporters Janie Southard and Lance Mihm contributed to this story.