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NJ - safe fishing?

Father, son die while ice fishing

BY NICK PETRUNCIO AND TERRY GAUTHIER-MUESSIG, STAFF WRITERS - Asbury Park Press

One of the things Sharon Moore will remember about her late father and brother is how they cared for a neighbor in her 90s who had no family of her own.

Similar sentiments about the kindness toward others that George F. Eaton, 82, and Bryan M. Eaton, 46, displayed have reverberated throughout the community since their tragic deaths.

The men, who were from the Lawrenceville section of Lawrence Township in Mercer County, drowned Friday while ice fishing on Assupink Lake in Upper Freehold Township.

"If you needed the help, you didn't need to ask for it, my brother and father were there," said Moore, 41, who lives in an apartment above her parents' house.

The surviving brother, George Eaton Jr., 58, from the Columbus section of Mansfield Township in Burlington County, said the news was announced even in churches the family never attended.

"It's a trait of the family. They were friendly to everybody. They would do anything for anybody. People coming to the house the past two days has been nonstop," Eaton said.

Autopsies to determine the exact cause of the men's deaths were performed Sunday, but results have not been released.

"Everyone said what a nice person my father was, how caring, and one of the nicest people you'd ever come across. As a daughter, he was one of the best fathers," Moore said, her voice breaking. "He always took us hiking, camping, fishing, sledding. It was a wonderful childhood. My brother, Bryan, he had a heart of gold."

Sgt. Jeanne Hengemuhle, a State Police spokeswoman in the Hamilton Barracks, said police began the search for the men after a missing persons call was made to the department at about 10:30 p.m. Friday.

The search and rescue team worked until 2 a.m. and then resumed the search at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Hengemuhle said.

The bodies were found 40-yards off the shoreline between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.

Hengemuhle said there were five holes dug in the ice for fishing.

On Sunday, shock still enveloped the Eaton household.

"We still really can't believe it's happened. They were very experienced," Eaton said. The three men enjoyed ice fishing trips together, and Eaton said the only reason he was not with them that day was because he had to work.

The family always was a fan of the outdoors and enjoyed camping, fishing, hiking and hunting.

"I grew up with it. My parents had me doing it since I was born," Eaton said.

Moore said her father was a Marine corporal during World War II and spent most of his time in the service in Okinawa, Japan. Upon his 1946 discharge, he finished his senior year of high school in South River, Middlesex County, where he met his wife, Theresa, who is now 76. He was retired, but had worked for General Motors for 35 years.

Bryan Eaton was self-employed, but also had worked at GM and had been a handyman at Princeton University.

Moore said Bryan would cut their elderly neighbor's lawn, as the Eatons took care of the woman as if she were family. Bryan put in and took out her air conditioner as the seasons changed, saw to it that she had groceries and medicine, and was just there for her for anything she needed, Moore said, adding that her father helped, too.

"She does not get around too well. They were there to do everything for her," Moore said.

She also related that her brother was an excellent cook, but did not want to do it professionally for fear of losing his zest for it.

Moore said it was a stupid tragedy, but one thing gives her consolation: "If they had to go any way, the two of them, that would be the way to go. They were doing something they loved."

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