Illinois

Chicago man drowns trying to save nephew on Lake Michigan beach

A Chicago man died while trying to save his 11-year-old nephew who had fallen off an inner tube in Lake Michigan Monday afternoon.

James Hammond, 31, was on a motorboat near the 63rd Street Beach with his 7-year-old niece and a 9-year old family friend while the man's nephew was floating on the inner tube nearby, rescuers said. Suddenly, the tube flipped over.

Hammond jumped in to help him while the girls on the boat blew a whistle to get the lifeguards’ attention, the Chicago Sun Times reported. Rescuers safely brought the boy to shore within minutes, but they could not find Hammond.

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Hammond's daughter “was frantic. She said, ‘I can’t see Uncle James anymore,” the man's brother, Michael, said.

It took a helicopter crew about 15 minutes to find the man submerged. They brought him to the University of Chicago Medical Center in “extremely critical” condition, according to the Chicago Fire Department. He was declared dead an hour later.

An autopsy Tuesday declared drowning as the cause of death, which was ruled an accident.

James had recently bought the boat and was excited to break it in during the Fourth of July weekend, Michael Hammond said. “He was such a good person. There are no words. It’s a nightmare.” 

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Michael’s son was taken to Comer Children’s hospital in good condition and was released later that evening. Fire officials say all three children were wearing life jackets and the girls were not harmed. Hammond was not wearing a life jacket.