Two Dead, One Missing in Ill. in Attempt to Save Boy from Drowning

August 15, 2006

Two people died and a third was missing and presumed drowned Sunday in an attempt to rescue a young boy from the swirling water near a dam on the Kankakee River in Wilmington, Ill. authorities said.

Although Brian Santoyo, 4, of Chicago, was rescued and resuscitated, his mother Delia, 27, was drowned in the attempt to save him. Also drowned was a bystander who came to the family’s aid, Alberto Medina, 28, of Chicago.

The boy’s uncle, Marine Sgt. Jafet Santoyo, 23, disappeared in the water and was presumed drowned. Wilmington Police Chief Wally Evans said a search for the missing man’s body would resume Monday. Family members said Jafet Santoyo returned recently from a tour in Iraq.

Authorities said the Santoyo family and some of their friends from Chicago were on a fishing outing to Wilmington’s South Island Park when the tragedy occurred. They say undertow and eddies from the dam make the river particularly dangerous at that spot.

This is not the first time there has been a death at South Island Park. Over the last 25 years, between 15 and 20 people have drowned in that area of the river, one witness said.

Two years ago, Wilmington stopped leasing the land to the park district when it lost its liability insurance after drowning victims’ families sued.

The park district won the lawsuits, but had to pay out $180,000 in fees.

Witnesses said family members and friends formed a human chain to try to rescue Brian, but the current proved too strong for most of them.

A Chicagoan, Andres Alvarez, 29, was the first to reach the boy and his mother, and managed to pull them out of the water, but he was unable to resuscitate the woman.

Alvarez was taken to Proven St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, where he was listed in good condition early Monday.

Brian Santoyo was taken to Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, and later transferred to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he was listed in stable condition early Monday. The boy’s father, Jose Santoyo, 28, was treated and released at Silver Cross.

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