Kyle Miller so loved animals that he was the only student in his college class to volunteer to spend part of this week’s spring break working at the Ohio Wildlife Center.
The 21-year-old was also readying an application in hopes of working this summer with an organization that humanely catches critters who’ve found their way into places they shouldn’t be. A junior in the Zoo and Conservation Science Program at Otterbein University, Miller hoped to someday travel to Alaska and work with the wildlife there, his professor said.
And Miller so loved his own pet that he sacrificed himself Saturdaytrying to save the dog when it went into the water while he and a friend kayaked on one of the Darby Bend Lakes at Prairie Oaks Metro Park in western Franklin County.
Miller, of Hilliard, couldn’t swim and wasn’t wearing a life jacket when he went into the water while trying to pull the dog back into the kayak. He held onto his kayak as long as he could but the frigid lake — the water temperature was about 30 degrees — quickly sapped his energy and he went under just before 11 a.m. Saturday, authorities said.
His friend, 19-year-old Austin Gifford, was able to swim to shore and call for help, but no one could make it out onto the water before Miller slipped under.
Divers from the Franklin County sheriff’s office recovered Miller’s body in the center of one of the lakes, near where he went under, about 2 p.m. yesterday.
High winds, diver fatigue caused by the cold and malfunctioning equipment all led the sheriff’s office to call off the search Saturday evening. It resumed yesterday about 9 a.m.
Officers from the Ohio Division of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft used sonar equipment designed for deep water to pinpoint Miller’s body, which was about 71 feet down. The area is a former quarry, and the lakes are as deep as 80 feet in some places.
“It’s somber out here,” sheriff’s Lt. Ed Schillig said yesterday. “There’s no joy in doing any of this.”
Schillig said there’s no way of knowing if the outcome would have been different had Miller worn a life vest but, “it would have given him a fighting chance.”
Miller’s family watched the efforts from the shore but was too distraught to talk to reporters.
Deputies said Miller and Gifford were in separate kayaks on the lake, but both men fell in trying to rescue the dog.
Gifford, also an Otterbein student, was treated at a hospital and released Saturday night, Schillig said. Miller’s dog, a poodle, didn’t survive; its body also was recovered.
Miller was a track standout at Otterbein, earning conference honors for his hurdling in the 2013 indoor season, said Dave Lehman, the university’s head track coach.
“He was a talented athlete and a great young man,” Lehman said. “We all feel fortunate to have known him.”
Professor Anna Young leads Otterbein’s Zoo and Conservation Science program and first met Miller when he took her introductory class a year ago. She was too upset to talk yesterday but said in an email that Miller loved everything about the outdoors.
“He had such a big heart for animals’ welfare,” Young wrote. “Kyle was always so calm and had such kind eyes. He would have been an excellent ambassador for wildlife. It’s tragedy to lose someone so young and passionate.”