Teen drowns in Aroma Park river, others saved

A teenager drowned while having end-of-summer fun on a river in Aroma Park in suburban Kankakee County.
A teenager drowned while having some end-of-summer fun on a river in Aroma Park in suburban Kankakee County.

The 911 call came in just after 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon, but it took several hours and the use of sonar boats to locate the body of 15-year-old Jayden Irby, who by all accounts drowned while trying to save others who were caught in the same current that he was.

It was supposed to be one last celebration of summer, a day spent swimming and barbecuing in Kankakee County. Instead, a Chicago Heights family gathering turned into tragedy when Jayden drowned after getting caught by the river's undertow, along with five other boys. It was the quick thinking of Cortez Blevins that saved most of them.

"I was up in the water swimming, then I turned my head and I saw them drowning. I grabbed the boats and threw them out there to him," Blevins said.

Witnesses say Jayden grabbed the canoes and started helping the other boys into them.

"He was trying to save me and then I got on the boat with my other cousin and he saved me," said 11-year-old Lamar Hughes.

What happened next is not clear, but many of those there say an unidentified man ordered Jayden off the boat he was using to try and save himself.

"The gentleman, whoever rented the boat, said, 'Let my boat go, you're trying to steal my boat,' and by him being so obedient, he let go of the boat and died," said Bernadette Merriweather, the victim's aunt.

The Aroma Fire Department was called out to the scene immediately. Rescue boats were in the water within ten minutes and several municipalities were called out to help locate Jayden. In the end, the teenager's body was recovered 85 feet from shore five hours later.

"So many times this turns into tragedy because you think you're in shallow water, you venture out further and you're swept away by the current and fall into a hole," said Asst. Chief Gregory Neil, Aroma Fire Protection District.

Illinois State Police is now in charge of the investigation.

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