The family of a St. Joseph County World War II veteran is mourning in what police are calling a bizarre and tragic accident.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, St. Joseph County 911 dispatchers received an emergency call for a deceased man in a home in the 54800 block of Butternut Rd., just southwest of the South Bend Regional Airport. Paramedics and police arrived to find a 92-year-old man crushed to death underneath a piano, in the basement of his home.
Family members told officers longtime St. Joseph County resident George Minarik had moved to a retirement home with his older wife. Early Tuesday morning, he left the retirement center to prepare his house for an upcoming garage sale. Loved ones became worried when they had not heard from him by late afternoon. When they drove to check on him, they found him dead.
"My step-sister called and said 'Nona, he's in the basement and the piano is on him, I don't think he's alive,'" said Nona Hutchins, Minarik's daughter.
On Wednesday, friends and family stopped by Minarik's home to remember a man who has touched many lives. Hutchins said that her father was well-known among the neighbors on the street.
"They adored him, they thought of him as another dad," she said. "A lot of them had lost their dads, but dad was there to help them. He would work on their cars, fix their lawn mowers and it has been that way our entire lives."
Just down the street, Larry Yuhahz recalls the countless times Minarik had gone out of his way to assist him.
"I would come back and my grass would be cut," Yuhahz said. "I' d say, I know who did it. He got his riding mower and was out here. He had to be doing something all the time."
It was the determination to stay active, even at age 92, that led Minarik to try to fix a piano in his basement Tuesday.
"He was just so strong, it was hard to tell him to slow down," Hutchins said.
In August, Minarik received France's highest military honor for his service during World War II. Newscenter 16 had the chance to capture the occasion.
"He was so behind all patriotism, he instilled that in us," Hutchins said.
Though he is no longer with her, Hutchins said she finds some comfort in knowing her dad was true to himself until the very end.
"His wish was to die in this house," she said. "god found a way to make his wish come true."
Sgt. William Redman with the St. Joseph County Police Department says investigators have ruled the man's death accidental. Autopsy results are still pending.