The family of a 19-year-old college student who drowned after jumping off a pier at a Rogers Park beach is suing the Chicago Park District because, they say, had there been life rings available his death could have been prevented.
Miguel Angel Cisneros had graduated from St. Ignatius College Prep and was excited to depart Sept. 4 for his sophomore year at Columbia University in New York City, where he’d earned a scholarship. He spent his freshman year attending classes remotely.
But he drowned Aug. 22 while swimming off a pier at Toby Prinz Beach Park near Pratt Boulevard and Sheridan Road.
Witnesses saw him jump into Lake Michigan and he immediately got caught in a riptide. They looked for something to throw to him and there was nothing, according to family attorney Jeffrey Kroll.
Neighbors previously installed life rings near the location, but the park district removed them.
A spokeswoman for the park district didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The park district has previously said that swimming and diving off the pier are not allowed nor is swimming at the nearby beach when a lifeguard is not on duty, and the presence of life rings might encourage such behavior.
Facing community pressure, the park district backpedaled and installed life rings at the pier and nearby beach and announced plans last week to install life rings at all staffed beaches.
Faded markings that warned against swimming off the pier have been repainted, and new signs have also gone up.
Miguel’s mother, Maria Diaz, wants more. She wants life rings installed along the city’s entire waterfront, and she hopes the lawsuit over her son’s death will force the issue.
“This is not only about Miguel,” she said. “It’s about preventing other families from going through this tragedy.”
Diaz said her son, who knew how to swim, was the first student from Burroughs Elementary, a public school in Brighton Park, to attend St. Ignatius, an elite private high school. He rowed on the school’s crew team.
She said no words can describe her loss.
“It hurts when I don’t get that phone call saying ‘Hey, mama bear. How are you doing?’ and it breaks me down,” she said.
Kroll called the park district’s stance against installing life rings a “cop-out.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “They know people swam there. It’s like putting a fire alarm in a building and saying it will encourage people to start fires. It’s a safety device. It’s like a seat belt.”
He said the park district didn’t want life rings due to concerns the devices would leave them exposed to legal liability.
“They’re making a decision about liability without concerning the lives of their citizens,” he said.
“This was preventable, it was an obvious problem and it was predictable and this was a recipe for disaster and they buried their head,” he said.