Swimmers Remembered As Hard Workers, Heroes

By CHARLEY GILLESPIE, Associated Press Writer

FINDLAY, Ohio (AP) - Matthew Smith was just enjoying a summer day off from work with friends.

A high school athlete just a few years ago, he would not have hesitated to try a dangerous lake rescue when a young woman in his group struggled, his father said Thursday.

Now Smith is one of four men missing and believed drowned in Lake Erie. They were identified Thursday as Smith, 21, and Kyle Kroetz, 29, both of Findlay; Jarred Smith, 18, of nearby Sandusky; and Steve Cupec, 27. Authorities said Cupec was from Karns City, Pa., but his stepmother, Pamela Cupec, said he moved to Ohio years ago and she did not know where he lived.

Matthew and Jarred Smith are not related.

The four men were at a public beach Wednesday with Amy Renee Anderson, 22, of Findlay, and swam out to help when she was knocked down by waves, Huron Fire Chief John Zimmerman said. Firefighters later rescued Anderson who is engaged to Cupec, according to Zimmerman.

Matthew Smith was a hurdler at Findlay Liberty-Benton High School where he graduated in 2000, said his father, Frank Smith.

"He was an outstanding athlete. That's probably why he thought he could do this, because he was in very good shape," he said.

But Matthew Smith seldom went to the lake and would have been unfamiliar with the beach and the force of waves, his father said.

Matthew Smith and Kroetz, friends who worked at a Wal-Mart in Findlay, decided to go to the beach on their day off with the others, Frank Smith said.

"This was just a new thing, so they probably didn't know not to go out where they did," he said.

Matthew would not have hesitated to try a rescue, because he was "wonderfully compassionate, a loving young man. Matthew loved the Lord. He was a Christian truly in love with Jesus. So the miracle that has happened is that we expect they are together now," the father said, choking back tears.

Matthew Smith, who lives with his parents, has two brothers and a sister.

Kyle Kroetz is one of eight children.

"I know he was a hero. He went in to save a girl," said his mother, Sandra Kroetz.

Kyle Kroetz, an Eagle Scout, has a wife, Rachel, and 4-year-old daughter, Holly, his mother said.

Jarred Smith, a 2001 graduate of Sandusky High School, is Kyle Kroetz's brother-in-law.

"He was a good kid. He never got in any trouble," next-door neighbor George Ritchey said.

Each Sunday a church bus would come by to pick up Smith for services, said Ritchey, adding that Smith had recently gotten his driver's license.

At the Findlay Wal-Mart, a wreath of vines and red, white and blue carnations hung at the entrance Thursday, with a card reading, "In loving memory of Matt, Kyle, Steve and Jarred."

Kroetz and Matthew Smith worked nights unloading trucks and stocking shelves, and Cupec had worked there until about four months ago, co-manager Ron Beadnell said.

Breaking the news to eight co-workers on third shift was difficult, he said.

"They were pretty upset and didn't know what to say," Beadnell said. "Although they were told to leave, they stayed together for over an hour trying to help each other."

All three were outgoing and good workers, Beadnell said.

"I'm very proud of those guys, and I'm very proud that they worked here," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)