ATV rider's fatal plunge through ice happened on river stretch known for heaving, breaking

ATV rider's fatal plunge through ice happened on river stretch known for heaving, breaking

The  58-year-old Quispamsis man who died over the weekend after his all-terrain vehicle plunged through the ice of the Kennebecasis River, near Long Island, has been identified as well-known Saint John businessman Pat Valardo.

Valardo, 58, co-owned and co-operated Buccaneer's Pub & Eatery on the city's west side with his younger brother, Brian.

He's being remembered as a well-liked, kind and generous man.

"It's been a steady traffic of people coming through and phone calls," pub manager Josh Hogan, who knew Valardo for about two decades, said on Monday afternoon.

"Nobody can believe it's true," said Hogan, speaking on behalf of the family.

On Saturday, just after 11 p.m., emergency crews responded to a 911 call from an ATV rider that he and another man on an ATV had both gone through the ice across the river from Rothesay.

The caller had managed to climb out, but Valardo was still submerged.

Using the GPS in the caller's cellphone, the 911 dispatcher determined the riders were close to Minister's Face.

WATCH: 'One of the best bosses I've ever worked for,' Buccaneer's Pub staffer says of Pat Valardo, who died in ATV crash on St. John River.

Open water danger

Shawn White, division chief of the Kennebecasis Valley Fire Department, said there's about a 60-metre stretch of open water of varying width running along Minister's Face because of the freeze-thaw cycle this winter and the brooks and streams that run off of Long Island.

White is urging people to be cautious.

"If you're not familiar with the area, you would be driving across the river and be on solid ice thinking everything's OK and all of a sudden you're going to come to open water," said White, who participated in the rescue.

"And especially with it being nighttime, obviously visibility is an issue. And that was one of the things that probably caused this unfortunate incident to happen."

Connell Smith/CBC

Rothesay resident Ted Harley, who has kept a close eye on the ice conditions on the Kennebecasis River for decades, said it fractured near Minister's Face just hours before it claimed Valardo's life and sent the other ATV rider to the hospital.

"Pretty much every year we have a tide rip, which … locals refer to as a flash that opens up when the big tides come in with the moon and the cycle of the ocean," he said.

"What it does is it pushes up and heaves up and then when it settles back down it settles on itself and snaps some pieces off. So it's just a pressure ridge or a tide break, for the better sake of the term, that happens every year pretty much in that same particular spot."

Harley recommends those travelling on the ice to give Minister's Face a wide berth, or better yet, keep to the Rothesay side of the river.

He said he and his friends are also religious about not going out on the river unless they're equipped with floater suits and ice picks. 

"It'll save your life," he said.

Joe Comeau

Public Safety officials did not immediately respond to a request for an interview about what, if any, plans the department has to improve safety in the area.

The Kennebecasis Regional Police Force posted a warning about the open water on its Facebook page Sunday at 2:09 a.m. 

"Please avoid this area as it is not safe," it said.

White said two fire crews of four — every firefighter on duty Saturday night — responded to the 911 call.

Because of the ice conditions, they had to walk across the river and use an inflatable boat to reach the riders.

Connell Smith/CBC

They located the caller, who was already out of the water and shining the flashlight on his cellphone, first, he said. They put him in a hypothermic bag and used a sled to pull him back to shore. He was transported to the hospital as a precaution.

Another crew located Valardo and pulled him from the icy water. He was pulled to shore and paramedics performed CPR and resuscitation efforts on the way to the hospital, but he did not survive.

All eight firefighters had just updated their water rescue certification a week ago, said White. The RCMP investigation continues.

Joe Comeau

Hogan, who worked for Valardo at the pub for the past two years, described him as one of his best bosses he's ever had, "by far."

"He was very generous. He always looked out and tried to do the best for all his employees. He always tried to be the best for his customers and he was always trying to find ways to give back to the community and charity."

Valardo spent about six or seven days a week at the pub after he and his brother Brian took the business over from their late father Matt and late uncle Don.

He will be deeply missed by those fortunate enough to have known him. - Obituary

He also found time to travel and had "an abiding passion for the Montreal Canadiens," according to his obituary, posted online Monday evening.

Valardo "touched many lives" and "formed friendships that bore the test of time and distance," it states.

"He will be deeply missed by those fortunate enough to have known him."

In addition to his brother, who was also his best friend, Valardo is survived by several extended family members and his girlfriend Clare Vautour of Moncton.

"My heart is broken," she posted on Facebook.

Visitation will be held on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 pm. at Castle Funeral Home in Saint John. A funeral will be held Thursday at noon at Our Lady of the Assumption Church.