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County commissioner: Probe needed into Des Plaines River search for teen

Saturday, May 20, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Alex V. Hernandez

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin is asking for an independent investigation into how a search for a Villa Park teenager, who had gone missing after jumping into the Des Plaines River, was handled by various law enforcement agencies. The body of Cameron Sanders, 16, was recovered at 10:25 a.m. Thursday, five days after he jumped off Rainbow Bridge in Melrose Park into the river. The body was found near the bridge, which is located behind the Lincoln College of Technology. "It should not take this long to find an individual's body, and it was found just 150 yards from the bridge that he jumped off of," Boykin said at a Saturday afternoon news conference at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St., Chicago. "This incident may be a glaring example of having too many different law enforcement agencies responding, with nobody in charge. It's too many Indians and no chief, right?" Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced on Monday that his agency had taken over the investigation. Dart said Thursday that the total search effort included 200 officers from the Cook County sheriff's office and various employees from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Chicago Police Department's dive team, the Cook County Forest Preserve police, Brookfield and Lyons fire departments, and members of the state's Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, which is a group of fire and emergency medical services operation teams. "I think it's important that those agencies, those officers, act with sensitivity towards the family," said Boykin. He said Sanders' mother talked to him "about a number of people being insensitive, and I was concerned about that. I'm also concerned about the jurisdiction issues that plagued the beginning of the recovery." During the news conference, Boykin wondered aloud whether forest preserve police were necessary, since the county already has sheriff's police and said Cook County Inspector General Pat Blanchard has agreed to his request for an investigation into how the search was handled. Boykin says he's concerned because he said it didn't seem that there was an initial effort to recover Sanders' body in a timely fashion. "This area is in unincorporated Cook County, and it's my understanding that the forest preserve police department, along with Melrose Park police, were the initial respondents," Boykin said. "Quite frankly, I'm asking [Blanchard] to look into the forest preserve police department and their role in the response to this." Boykin also says he's reached out to Illinois State Police to review the search efforts. Reached by phone Saturday, Lambrini Lukidis, communications director for the Cook County Forest Preserve, said the right of way for Rainbow Bridge belongs to Canadian National Railway and the river underneath falls under the jurisdiction of Illinois State Police. Due to this, the forest preserve police had been technically an assisting agency during the search, Lukidis says. "The forest preserve responded to the call on May 13; we were contacted first, and we immediately started contacting other agencies," she said. Officers from the Cook County Forest Preserve continued to search the area, even after Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart took over the search effort, Lukidis said. "Our search included watercraft, scuba divers and cadaver dogs. Our officers dedicated at least 400 man hours to the initial search," said Lukidis. And as for Boykin's remarks about whether the Cook County Forest Preserve police are even necessary, Lukidis says that the comments aren't "germane to the conversation" about how the search effort for Sanders' body was handled. "The forest preserve is a unique area of 70,000 acres — that's 11 percent of the county's footprint, and our officers are trained specifically to investigate this type of area," Lukidis said. "We have a lot of visitors to our preserves, and so we have about 100 uniformed officers who cover a lot of the area on foot, bike and patrol cars." U.S. Rep. Danny Davis was also at Saturday's news conference. Davis said he was in the process of reaching out to Canadian National Railway to see how the area can be made less accessible to the public. "We're going to ask the [Canadian National Railway] to take a good look at this area and see whether or not they can erect some kind of barrier that would prevent or inhibit kids from using [Rainbow Bridge] as a play area," he said. Davis said that the federal government regulates interstate commerce, and while he could try and use legislation to force the railroad company do something about public safety at the bridge, he'd rather start by asking about it when he meets with representatives from the company sometime next week. Patrick Waldron, a spokesman for Canadian National, stated in an email Saturday that the incident "is a terrible tragedy." "[Canadian National Railway] has been working with the Cook County sheriff's office and other agencies to discuss issues of trespassing on the bridge," Waldron said in the email. "This incident is a tragic example of the dangers of trespassing on railroad tracks, structures or equipment. We encourage anyone who sees such activity to report it to police." The Cook County sheriff's office issued a statement via email, saying "the sheriff is very concerned with the apparent delays in launching a comprehensive search for Cameron" " The sheriff himself was on a boat up and down the river all day Tuesday and Wednesday, and several hundred staff from our office were searching until he was found," the statement read. "It's imperative that jurisdictional issues not impede recovery efforts as the delay only caused more anguish to a grieving family." Attempts to reach the Cook County inspector general's office were unsuccessful.

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