Man's death leads to questions about warnings

Man dies after boat capsizes on swollen river
June 17, 2008 5:16:50 PM PDT
There are questions as to why a man who drowned in the flooded Fox River was allowed to rent a boat in the first place. At the time, the state closed the river and the Chain O' Lakes to boaters because of rising flood waters.

The accident happened Monday around the Stratton Lock and Dam in Morraine Hills State Park.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources officially closed Fox Lake and the Chain O' Lakes to boaters Sunday. Yet on Monday morning, no one there seemed to know about it.

All Chain O' Lakes waterways have been closed to boaters because of hazards from flooding and storms.

The accident happened on the Fox River near McHenry Monday morning.

By the time the fire department arrived, it was too late to save J.C. Trotter. He's a retired postal worker from Chicago. His family said he loved to fish and would come up to the area often.

Fortunately, rescuers were able to save two other fisherman. They were saved by fellow fishermen.

You could hear the urgency in their voices on the amateur videotape that captured the rescue of the fishermen. On Monday morning, Trotter, his brother-in-law and a friend left the West Side of Chicago early for a day of fishing.

"He loved to go fishing. He'd rather be catching the fish than eating them. That's how much he liked the sport," said Deloris Crenshaw, Trotter's girlfriend of 25 years.

Taking advantage of the senior citizen discount, Trotter and his companions rented a rowboat. Witnesses say they tried to get across the river to fish on the other side but got caught up in a heavy current.

"We started to warn them off, told them not to go over the dam, it was dangerous, at which time they paddled over to the lock there," said Jerry Lameka, witness.

"I yelled at them, 'Don't grab a hold of it, just go on under and that way you can come to shore at the bottom.' They reached up and grabbed a hold of it anyway and when they did the boat tilted and they went out," said Bill Craft, witness.

One of the men was wearing a life jacket, another was not. And Trotter was wearing one around his neck but it was not tied. Trotter and one of the men kept going down the river until they were seen near the trees. The third man held on to the locks until fisherman Gregory Garner jumped in a boat and tried to rescue all of them.

"I watched them go under a few times and so I snatched them up and got them in the boat," Garner said.

Another person pulled Trotter to the shore. Lameka started performing CPR until the fire department arrived, but it was too late.

"We'd do what anyone would do in that situation, try to help," said Lameka.

The drowning happened on the same day officials closed boating to the Fox River as well as the Chain O' Lakes. The timing of that is unclear. Officials do say firefighters say that announcement came about 7:30 or 8 a.m. It is unclear whether the three men who capsized were aware of that announcement.

The bait shop is closed until boats are allowed back on the river. Fisherman Bill Craft witnessed the whole incident. He says no one, including the owner of the bait shop, was aware the river was closed Monday.

"Mr. Simpson wasn't a wear it was closed and neither was the park ranger. I talked to the ranger this morning. He was riding his bike down here and he said whoever is in charge did not tell him it was closed," said Craft.

He says the man who owns the bait shop would have never rented a boat had he known the river was closed. The Fox Waterway Agency says he should have known about it.

"Especially with the close proximity he was to the dam there, he would expect he would know more than anyone else," said Ingrid Ruttendjie, executive director, Fox Waterway Agency.

It is up to the waterway agency to get the word out of closures and they do it by computer.

"We post it on our Web site and we have several e-mail lists that we send out to key players," said Ruttendjie.

"I don't think that is the proper way to do it because a lot of older people don't know how to use computers. How are they going to check a Web site?" said Craft.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is investigating the whole communication breakdown.


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