Man dies trying to rescue nephew who fell off boat near Chicago beach

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - A Northwest Side man died while trying to rescue his 11-year-old nephew after the boy fell from an inner tube and began to struggle in Lake Michigan on Monday afternoon near 63rd Street Beach.

About 12:45 p.m., James Hammond was in a 15-foot motorboat with two young girls — his 7-year-old niece and a 9-year-old family friend — with the boy floating on a tube nearby, according to authorities and Hammond’s family.

When the tube flipped over and the boy fell in the water, Hammond jumped in to help him, authorities said.

The girls on the boat blew a whistle to attract attention. Lifeguards brought the boy to shore, but couldn’t find Hammond, according to police and fire officials. A helicopter crew eventually found him submerged.

Paramedics took the 31-year-old man to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. An autopsy Tuesday found Hammond drowned. His death was ruled an accident.

The boy was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital in good condition, and he was released later in the evening.

The girls were unharmed. All three children were wearing life jackets, but Hammond was not, fire officials said.

The 31-year-old man lived with his wife in the Albany Park neighborhood, according to his brother, Michael Hammond, who said his daughter called him from the boat.

“She was frantic. She said, ‘I can’t see Uncle James any more,'” Michael Hammond said.

James Hammond had recently bought the boat and was looking forward to hitting the water for the Fourth of July weekend, his brother said. “He was such a good person. There are no words. It’s a nightmare.”

Charles Marks was tanning at the beach while visiting from Minnesota with his girlfriend, Kari Mitchell. They said they heard the young girls calling for help from the boat.

“The lifeguards just sprang into action,” Marks said. “They knew what to do. They had good training.”

The boy was rescued within a few minutes, and it took fire crews about 15 minutes to locate James Hammond, according to Marks.

The beach was closed late Monday afternoon as Area Central detectives opened a death investigation.