A boat ride on the Kankakee River turned tragic on Saturday when one of two men and a dog thrown from the boat did not surface after the boat crashed into a logjam about one-quarter mile west of the Illinois-Indiana state line.
One of the men, Mike Stefano, and his dog, Buster, are presumed drowned, officials said. Stefano was a Vietnam veteran and retired from the Chicago Police Department, according to the boat’s other occupant, James Hubona, of Grant Park.
The accident happened just west of State Line Bridge, located a mile north of Illinois Route 114 and Indiana Route 10. The old truss structure has been closed to traffic for 19 years.
Hubona said he was able to work his way back to the boat and held on to the side. He was rescued when three men heard him yelling for help.
Two of the men, Nick Merisko and Zach Mckiddy, were putting away their kayaks when they and the other man heard Hubona’s cries for help.
Merisko got back in his kayak and tossed Hubona a life jacket until he could get out to him.
“We worked our way to the island shore,” Hubona told the Daily Journal’s John Dykstra. “Without him ...”
The 27-year-old Merisko told the Daily Journal in a telephone interview Monday that he and Mckiddy just reacted.
“We didn’t have (cellphone) service, so we told the one young guy to go and call 911,” he said.
They originally were going to put the kayak in by the bridge, but a man told them it would be quicker and closer to go in by his house.
The other rescuer was Dan Madon.
Hubona said he has known Stefano for six or seven years.
“He’s a good guy,” Hubona said. “I look out here and think of Mike. Everything was normal, and it changed in one second. I got the best of it. Unfortunately, he and Buster didn’t.”
The search for Stefano and Buster was suspended because of dangerous river conditions on Sunday.
Momence Fire Chief Jim Spoon said the river’s current measured 13 knots (15 mph), which is not safe to put divers in the water. Divers can safely search when the current is 4 knots (4.6 mph) or slower on the river.
Spoon said the logjam is massive, about 25 feet across, and has been there for about 30 years.
Momence personnel were called to the scene about 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. The search continued Sunday.
Side sonars were used, but results were negative.
Indiana rescue personnel and conservation officers from Indiana and Illinois were on scene, Spoon said. There were eight divers from Indiana.
Hubona said they were heading east when the boat “spun around a few times (and) slammed into the logjam.”
“The boat rolled to one side; I never saw Mike or Buster,” Hubona said. “We just went for a ride down the river and were coming back.”