7-year-old boy dies after boat capsizes in Chicago River; cause of accident still unclear

A Chicago Fire Department official would not say if the boat, carrying nine people, was overloaded. A passing boat also may have contributed to the capsizing, he said.

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A Chicago Police Department vessel passes by the scene of a capsized boat that had been reported in the Chicago River near the 1400 block of South Lumber on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

A Chicago Police Department vessel passes by the scene of a capsized boat in the Chicago River on Wednesday. Victor Lobato, 7, was pulled from under the boat and later died at Mercy Hospital.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

It’s too soon to say if a boat that capsized in the Chicago River Wednesday, leading to the death of a 7-year-old passenger, was overloaded or if something else contributed to the tragedy, a Chicago Fire Department official said Thursday.

Victor Lobato died at Mercy Hospital after being pulled out of the river along with eight other passengers.

Victor was in the water longest, Jason Lach, CFD’s deputy district chief in charge of marine and dive operations, said at a news conference.

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Crews from several agencies responded about 6:40 p.m. Wednesday to the reported capsizing near the 1400 block of South Lumber Street.

Eight people were pulled out, but rescue crews were told the boy was still missing, Lach said. The Chicago Police Department then deployed a rescue swimmer and two divers, who jumped from a CFD helicopter to search under the capsized boat, where Victor was found.

The boy was taken to Mercy Hospital where he later died of an apparent drowning, officials said. He lived in Little Village, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, but efforts to reach the boy’s family were unsuccessful.

Five other passengers were taken to the University of Illinois Hospital, in conditions ranging from fair to good, officials said. Three refused medical treatment.

Jason Lach, deputy district chief in charge of marine and dive operations for the Chicago Fire Department, speaks at a press conference Thursday afternoon about the death of 7-year-old Victor Lobato, who was in a boat that capsized on the Chicago River Wednesday.

Jason Lach, deputy district chief in charge of marine and dive operations for the Chicago Fire Department, speaks at a press conference Thursday afternoon about the death of 7-year-old Victor Lobato, who was in a boat that capsized on the Chicago River Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Lach said a larger vessel passing the boat may have contributed to the capsizing, but an investigation is ongoing.

Illinois Conservation Police are heading the investigation. Conservation Officer Jordan Roundcount said factors being studied include the weather and condition of the water in the area, as well as “boat traffic, operator experience and things of that nature.”

Officials also couldn’t say if or how the passengers were related, or where the boat may have been headed. It is also unclear where the boat had launched from.

“Beaches in the Chicagoland area are closed at this time and we need to respect that decision done by the mayor,” Lach said. “Please be aware, anytime you are operating a vessel, you are responsible for knowing your navigational waterways as well as any danger or hazards in this area.”

Contributing: David Struett

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.

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