KANKAKEE — A search for two people who fell into the Kankakee River on Thursday afternoon continued fruitlessly into the evening Friday.
The search began just after 2 p.m. Thursday, when several witnesses said they observed two people fishing on a small boat fall into the river. Kankakee Fire Chief Damon Schuldt said according to eyewitnesses, there might have been an issue with the boat that caused it to capsize just west of the dam near the Washington Avenue bridge.
The identities of the individuals who fell into the river are not known.
A command post was established along the river, and emergency responders scoured the area of Station Street Bridge heading north and west toward Fisherman’s Park and Bird Park.
After two hours of searching by watercraft, a dive team arrived on scene just before 4 p.m., and the boat was recovered about 5 p.m.
During the day, boats from six fire departments and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and three dive teams joined the rescue effort.
The search was called off at about 7:30 p.m., with responders saying they would resume their efforts Friday morning.
Teams set out at about 8 a.m. Friday. Eight to 10 rescue boats were searching the river from below the dam down river to Bird Park near Court Street bridge. Some boats were equipped with sonar equipment that allowed them to detect objects underwater that weren’t visible by sight.
Schuldt said the search would continue if needed through the weekend.
The pain from her loss is still very fresh. Nothing stops the clicking of days off of a calendar, and whether Annie Kidd is ready for Sunday and Mother’s Day is immaterial.
Less than a week after the funeral Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Bradley that celebrated the life of her 38-year-old daughter, Courtney, Annie will be in her Evergreen Acres home in Bradley, and her thoughts will remain focused on Courtney.
Courtney passed away on the morning of April 24, 38 years to the day of her birth.
Courtney was well-known in Kankakee County during much of the past 20 years. She struggled with health issues almost since birth, and those issues eventually led to the young woman receiving an extremely rare heart and liver transplant just days before Thanksgiving 2014 at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
At that time, she was only the third person in the world to receive a double transplant in which the heart was replaced after the other organ — in Courtney’s case, her liver — was put in place and allowed to function.
Doctors informed Annie that Courtney’s heart had remained just as strong as it was when it was placed in her chest. Courtney recently was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and the cancer had spread to other organs. Surprisingly, Courtney did not die from cancer, her mother noted. She died from a blood infection that spread into many regions of her body causing organs to cease functioning.
But Mother’s Day will be far different and much sadder this year.
“She also brought me a special gift. I know I’ll feel sad, but she’s now in the best place she can be. She’s happy and safe and finally healthy,” Annie said. “She’s still Courtney. She’s just in a different place.”
It would be understandable for Annie, 57, and her husband, Kevin, 59, to be bitter. Their daughter faced health issues dating back to her very early years as she came into the world with three heart defects.
“Doctors told us she wouldn’t live to be 2. Then, she wouldn’t live to be 5. Then, 10. We have been very blessed that God gave us 38 years. It wasn’t enough, but we are very grateful for the time we had. God gave her to us on April 24, 1982. She went back to God on April 24, 2020. I prayed that God would let us have her until her birthday. He did.”
Because of the COVID-19 virus and the pandemic, Courtney’s funeral Mass only could be attended by 10 people. Undoubtedly, based on the many lives the Courtney had touched, the church would have been packed otherwise. There were, however, about 100 vehicles that joined the funeral procession to All Saints Cemetery.
A celebration of life and memorial Mass for Courtney will be held for family and friends when the coronavirus situation resolves itself, the family said.
Annie admits life will be difficult without her daughter’s presence.
“Courtney and I were a team her entire life,” she said. “Now that part of the team is gone. It’s going to be really tough going on without her.”
Courtney and Annie had been in Rochester almost every day since Aug. 28. The past eight months were spent away from home and Annie is simply attempting to acclimate herself to Illinois and, specifically, Bradley once again.
She is planning to spend much of her energy in the outdoors working on her yard and garden. She said Courtney had a fondness for gardens, so that is where her attention will be focused. She said many family members and friends have given the family plants and yard ornament angels.
“I’ll have lots of angels around me to remind me of her,” Annie said.
Despite all of her health issues, her struggles and her frustrations, Annie and Kevin were not ready to let go, but they knew the time had come, as did Courtney.
“She had so many miracles,” but those keeping the young woman alive were no longer available. The time had come to turn off the life support system.
As any parent would, Annie wept and failed to sleep the night before the decision was put into action.
“I wasn’t ready. I remember thinking a lot about [Courtney’s heart and liver] donor’s mother that night. She was faced with the same decision of taking her daughter off life support.
“Courtney always told us that if there was the smallest chance of recovering, she would fight. She was still in fight mode,” she said.
However, her daughter’s medical team said the time had come to end the fight. Courtney had waged a long, hard-fought battle. A lifetime filled with doctor visits, hospital stays and health uncertainty had come to a conclusion.
“We had many, many talks about heaven, about the afterlife. She always said it would be magnificent.”
In his plan to reopen Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker lumped Kankakee County in the northeast region that includes coronavirus-hotspot Chicago and its suburbs.
The inclusion is not sitting well with many local and state officials, with one going so far as to say it’s an “economic death sentence.”
Making that declaration is Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, a Republican respresenting the 79th District. Her letter sent Wednesday to Pritzker argued Kankakee and Grundy counties and Peotone in southeastern Will County represent significantly fewer COVID-19 cases (less than 1 percent of the state’s total) than Chicago and its surrounding suburbs (92 percent of the state’s total).
She said Pritzker called her Thursday in response to her letter and said he is taking “under serious consideration” the request to leave Kankakee County and surrounding areas out of the Chicago region. She said her district does not have the same ability to rebound as metropolitan Chicago.
But she’s far from alone in taking offense to Kankakee County’s inclusion in the Chicago region.
When asked if Kankakee County should be grouped with Chicago, State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, flatly said no.
Announced Tuesday, “Restore Illinois” is a phased-in plan to reopen the state’s economy on a region-by-region basis. The boundaries are drawn around the Illinois Department of Public Health’s emergency medical service regions.
The plan lays out the criteria for each one of the regions to move through five stages of reopening. Pritzker suggested it could take several months or even a year before the state fully reopens, and the Chicago region would be among the last to do so.
Joyce said the 40th District, which covers a majority of Kankakee County and southeastern Grundy County, is further along in the phases laid out in the governor’s plan than Chicago and therefore shouldn’t be combined.
“We have to break down the data by county,” said Joyce, who also penned a letter to the governor. “We need to analyze it away from Cook County numbers.”
Andy Wheeler, Kankakee County Board Chairman, said it’s possible the state doesn’t have a real understanding of what’s happening with local numbers. He said a high number of cases at Shapiro Development Center gives a skewed perspective of the situation countywide.
“It’s a hotspot, and it has its own set of special circumstances,” he said of Shapiro.
The time to reopen Kankakee County is sooner rather than later, Wheeler said.
“The business people here are hurting in most cases,” he said. “We owe it to them to get back going as quickly as we possibly can, and we need to do it responsibly.”
Wheeler was among local community leaders who announced last week the creation of the Kankakee County Coalition for Responsible Reopening. The group will bring stakeholders together to forge a path to a safe reopening in the county without causing a resurgence of the virus.
Kankakee County is “taking that extra step here,” and Wheeler already has had responses from mayors, social service agencies and more.
Data will play a vital role in reopening, he said, adding he is reaching out to the governor’s office and local lawmakers to provide them the data on Kankakee County and explain why the county should be considered differently.
He likely will find a listening ear in Joyce, who said, “We are at a point where I feel we need to restart our local economy.”
Parkhurst said Thursday she is working with local leaders in her district on ways to safely and responsibly reopen communities while paying close attention to scientific data regarding COVID-19.
“We have to be supportive of business,” she said. “If Menards can open as a big box store with social distancing and the amount of people that go in there, we should be able to have smaller businesses open with the social distancing precautions.”
Back to session
Parkhurst said the governor’s reopening plan “blindsided” legislators, as they were not consulted regarding their regions.
During his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday in Chicago, Pritzker said he considers the opinions of Republican legislators in his decision making.
“I have talked to the leaders on the Republican side, many Republican legislators. I’m frequently reaching out, listening to them. I take a lot of notes, and I’ve done a lot of the things that they’ve asked along the way,” he said.
Parkhurst joins other state lawmakers who are asking the General Assembly be called back to session to create regional reopening plans at the local level.
She said it is important the Legislature be able to maintain the system of checks and balances in the state government.
“Because of the pandemic, the governor has some executive emergency powers, but he can’t just run the state as one man and not call us back into session,” she said. “These decisions that are being made have long-lasting effects on the state and the voters of the state, and they need to be made by their senators and their representatives who represent them and know their communities.”
Joyce said he agrees the session should reconvene and argued it could be done safely.
“It has to be done with the safety guidelines in place,” he said. “I’m ready to go. We have a budget that needs to be addressed as well as dealing with this pandemic.”
He points out though, “We have to realize that all the executive orders were driven by keeping people safe. I think that is getting lost in all the political discussions.”
Pritzker has been quoted repeatedly as saying he is acting on the advice of scientists and epidemiologists.
“Well, I’m not the one holding back the economy from [full reopening]; the COVID-19 virus is,” Pritzker said during a press briefing Wednesday. “That’s the thing that’s been causing the very high infection rates, the hospitalizations and the deaths.”
Consumers will decide
Whether Kankakee County remains grouped with Chicago and its reopening is delayed or not, the consumers ultimately will be the ones to have the final say on when the economy reopens.
“Just because the governor or the local authorities tell people that places are open, they’re going to be the ones to determine more that they’re going to go anywhere,” said Tim Nugent, president and CEO of Economic Alliance of Kankakee County. “The airlines are open now, but I don’t see people running and jumping into planes.”
He said no one wants to keep the economy down longer than necessary, but by the same token, you don’t want to see the death toll go up and more people get sick.
“I’d love to see the economy get back to normal, but I’ve seen a lot of businesses recover from financial struggles, but I’ve not seen many dead people come back,” Nugent said.