Hoax in Poland

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LEWISTON – The scene on Upper Range Pond on Tuesday had all the makings of a tragedy – a single set of footprints led to a wide hole in the ice, leading neighbors and police to believe someone had plunged into the icy pond.

Game wardens who approached the hole in an airboat, however, came to a different conclusion: It appeared that someone walked to the hole and then returned in the same footprints to give the appearance of a drowning.

What looked to be another drowning may instead have been a hoax.

“We definitely wanted to err on the side of caution with something like this,” said Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Detective William Gagne at the end of a two-hour search. “We got a call from a passer-by who saw the hole in the ice and those footprints leading up to it. It definitely didn’t look good.”

Starting at about sundown, sheriff’s deputies, game wardens, fire and rescue crews gathered on the banks of the pond along Range Hill Road. The hole in the ice was roughly 40 feet out and 4 feet wide.

The team considered sending the dive team into the water, but with darkness approaching and a warden’s air boat in the area, they decided to wait for that craft.

When it arrived, wardens rode out to the hole and examined the area with flashlights. They circled the hole several times, breaking up the ice and further searching the frigid water.

No body was found.

Warden Dave Chabot said a closer examination of the footprints near the hole led them to believe someone had walked out onto the frozen lake and then back-tracked. Who did it and why remained a mystery.

Gagne said nobody from the area had been reported missing and no vehicle was left abandoned near that section of the pond. In fact, the only people seen there in recent days were three people in a dark pickup truck. Gagne asked that anyone with information about that group, or about the hole in the ice, to call the Sheriff’s Department at 784-7361.

“We’d just like to get some closure to it,” Gagne said.

If anything productive came out of the search operation Tuesday, it was that it provided another opportunity for game wardens to warn people that frozen lakes and ponds remain unsafe.

A Connecticut man died Sunday when he fell through the ice on Rangeley Lake. In Dexter the same day, a man was rescued from Wassookeag Lake after trying to save his dog after it fell through the ice. Another man was plucked from Pushaw Lake in Old Town after his snowmobile crashed through the ice.

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