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Friends mounted own Chicago River search for drowned man: ‘He was loved’

Chicago police Marine Unit members remove a body from the Chicago River near the Bridgeport boat launch on Friday. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Four days into the search for Alberto Lopez’s remains in the South Branch of the Chicago River, Lopez’s friends said they didn’t think Chicago police efforts were cutting it.

So they took a boat out to look on their own Friday afternoon. And it worked.

They say they spotted the body themselves near Damen — barely half a mile from the spot Lopez fell overboard on Memorial Day — and then called police to retrieve it.

“We got sick of waiting and waiting for the police,” said Ricardo Sanchez, a friend and coworker of Lopez. “We didn’t believe it was him. He was against a barge and a wave pushed the face up, and right away we knew it was.”

The body was found near where the river enters the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, according to police. Lopez fell in the river near Ashland on Monday, prompting a rescue attempt that claimed the life of Chicago Fire Department diver Juan Bucio.

Chicago Police offered sympathies to Lopez’s loved ones, but defended the rescue efforts.

“Our officers were out and looked in the river multiple days,” CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “It’s just an unspeakable tragedy. We offer our deepest condolences.”

Friends of Alberto Lopez look on Friday afternoon as authorities remove a body from the Chicago River near Bridgeport. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times
Friends of Alberto Lopez look on Friday afternoon as authorities remove a body from the Chicago River near Bridgeport. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

The Cook County medical examiner’s office confirmed Saturday that the recovered body was that of Lopez. He lived in the West Lawn neighborhood on the Southwest Side.

An autopsy ruled his death an accidental drowning.

His friends called Lopez’s girlfriend in Mexico, where Lopez had planned to return in December to get married. The couple had three young children, including an infant son whom Lopez had spent just a day with after he was born last summer, before Lopez came to Chicago for work to support his family, his friends said.

“We’re all sad. But we’re also happy that we found our friend,” Sanchez said. “He was a happy guy. He was loved.”

Chicago Fire Department diver Juan Bucio (left) died Monday while searching in the Chicago River for Alberto Lopez (right). | Bucio photo provided by Chicago Fire Department; Lopez photo from Facebook
Chicago Fire Department diver Juan Bucio (left) died Monday while searching in the Chicago River for Alberto Lopez (right). | Bucio photo provided by Chicago Fire Department; Lopez photo from Facebook

Lopez had been sitting near the edge of a 16-foot pleasure boat Monday when a larger boat passed, and the wake knocked him in. He was unable to swim and wasn’t wearing a lifejacket, authorities said.

Bucio was part of the CFD dive team that responded, but he was soon separated from his partner. He died at Stroger Hospital, with autopsy results pending. Visitation for the 15-year CFD veteran is scheduled for Sunday afternoon in the chapel of St. Rita of Cascia High School, 7740 S. Western Ave.

Lopez’s body was the second recovered from the river on Friday, after that of another man was found in the North Branch near Lincoln Park about 7:30 a.m.