Construction of ice shanty most likely saved two lives in Paddock Lake

The Mueller Family on Christmas 2009 - Tom, Terri, and 4-year-old Erik.

It’s New Year’s Day 2010, and Tom Mueller and Cody Styscko are engaged in the sport that has bonded them for the past 10 years.

What started out as a typical evening of ice fishing on Paddock Lake, the site suddenly turned into a tragic accident scene when the ice shanty the pair occupied was struck broadside by a snowmobile.

Tom and Cody, both of Paddock Lake, heard the snowmobile approaching, but thought it was someone stopping by.

“It is not uncommon for snowmobilers to stop by and say hi, nor is it uncommon for snowmobiles to ‘zoom’ us at a high rate of speed in close proximity,” Tom said.

Cody, 16, a junior at Central High School,  concurred.  He said, “We see snowmobiles and 4-wheelers all the time. But they usually keep their distance. They’re not really ever a problem.”

But this snowmobile was traveling on a different course, clipping an unoccupied shanty then striking the shanty Tom and Cody were seated  in.

“I can’t believe he hit us,” reacted  Tom, 33, who suffered multiple facial injuries from the impact.

“I was shocked, dumbfounded, and just surprised that this actually happened to us!” Cody said. Sometimes,  a snowmobile comes within 50 feet of their location, “but never, until now, one actually hits your shanty!”

The  snowmobile was reportedly traveling at a high rate of speed on the frozen lake. The driver, David Miller, 43, of Paddock Lake, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“We do think of the Millers,” Tom’s wife, Terri, said. David is survived by two school-age sons  and his mom, who lost her only other son in a motorcycle accident in 2009. “Those two boys and his mom are going through a lot…’s a very sad situation all around.”

Cody  had minor injuries, a cut down his nose, “and a few bumps and bruises, but not much. I was fortunate,” he relates.

Tom  wandered to the north shore private beach where he was met by fire and rescue personnel which arrived within 10 minutes after the crash.

Tom and Erik display their 24-inch Northern catch of the day Jan. 16, the first day back in the rebuilt shanty.

He was taken to St. Catherine’s Hospital. He had over 50 stitches in his face around the left eye which he almost lost. He suffered two broken bones in the left side of his face and underwent surgery the week of  Jan. 7.  Recovery was “painful,” as his jaw had to be re-stretched in order to open at normal range. Tom has left knee surgery scheduled for this week.

Terri, added, “His right leg was pretty beat up and his big toe has multiple fractures. Not much you can do for that, it just hurts like a son of a gun.”

Both shanties were heated with propane gas. The propane tank was struck and hissing wide open after impact.

“A lot of people are saying I am lucky,” Tom notes. “Lucky would have been sitting at home that night frying up a bucket of fresh crappie…I’m not lucky, but I am fortunate.”

Typically, Tom’s 4-year-old son, Erik, would be fishing with the guys.

“There are a lot of what ifs,” said Terri. “Erik is usually out there with Tom and Cody, this time he just wasn’t. There were 2 to 3 other people on their way out to fish with them.”

Tom built both shanties. The first shack hit was 6 feet by 8 feet and made of galvanized steel. It had a green treated frame and the base was on  metal skis. The second shack, that was demolished, was also 6 feet by 8 feet. It was made of insulated freezer panels, mounted on ½-inch plywood on a 6-foot by 8-foot, 5/8-inch green treated base with wood runners.

“He (Tom) put months, hours, hundreds of dollars into those shanties to make them safe,” said Terri, “and that is what saved he and Cody,” she believes.

Tom, a shop manager, returned to work last week with light duties.  And he and Cody  have returned to their favorite sport on Paddock Lake.

A group of friends helped rebuild the first shanty hit, and ice fishing resumed for Tom and Erik on Jan. 16.

Cody Styscko, 16, and Erik Mueller, 4, show off Erik's first ever 34-inch Northern catch. He pulled it in all by himself on the tip-up he received for his birthday.

Tom has been fishing in the Kenosha County lakes “ever since I could walk with my dad,” he said. He’s been fishing this spot he calls “the horseshoe,” located near the center of  Paddock Lake, for the past 10 years.

Cody grew up around fishermen and began participating in the sport at age 4. He is often seen fishing with his dad and two brothers.

Tom met Cody while fishing on Paddock Lake in 2000.

“Cody was the most die hard kid I ever met, fishing in the cold for 10 hours on a bucket,” Tom remembers. Tom invited him into the shanty to warm up, and they have been fishing buddies ever since.

Terri, affectionately added, “He’s like a son to me. I love that kid.”

Neither will quit the sport that has brought so many hours of enjoyment throughout their lifetime.

As of Jan. 28, Cody has fished 20 days since the accident. “So, I’m not letting this affect my fishing,” he states.  “Fishing is a huge part of my life, and I love it.”

An avid fisherman himself, Tom said, “I love the sport and won’t stop.” Although it has become a little more challenging with equipment destroyed due to the accident.

As Cody reflects on  that alarming evening, he is reminded,  “You never in a million years think this will happen to you until it actually does. That’s reality, you just can’t predict it.”



  1. EP says:

    Such a great, informative article. Glad to hear this terrible accident is not slowing them down much.

  2. Joe Hulback says:

    I to live right on the lake like Cody and Tom, except I have lake front property.
    I have seen Cody around the area ever since I moved here the summer of 2010. I once saw him catch a 4 or 5 pound bass of the pier. He is a good fisherman and should stick with it!!!!!!!

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