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Drowning Lawsuit

The family of a Little Village 7-year-old boy who drowned in the Chicago River last summer has filed suit against the company whose barge operator caused a wake that capsized the family boat, according to the suit.

The child, Victor Lobato Ochoa, was caught under the boat after it capsized July 23, 2020, near the 1400 block of South Lumber Street. He was pulled out of the water by divers and taken by helicopter to Mercy Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

According to the lawsuit filed by attorney Michael Gallagher, the barge was being towed at an excessive speed that caused a series of significant wakes to capsize the boat. The Chicago River in that location is a strict “No Wake” zone, and the tow boat was in violation of local, state and federal regulations governing the river.

“The barge and tow boat were surging down the river at unsafe speeds that caused the boat that Victor was on to capsize, pinning the child under the boat,” said Gallagher, who filed suit on behalf of Mariana Ochoa, Victor’s mother and the administrator of his estate.  Gallagher went on to state “the loss of a child is heartbreaking enough. However, losing a child before your own eyes because of a corporation’s negligence, is a tragedy few of us will ever endure”.

Cited as a defendant in the lawsuit was Material Services Corporation of Chicago and two of its parent companies, Hanson Material Service Corporation and Lehigh Hanson Services LLC. Material Services is also a subsidiary of Heidelberg Group, one of the largest building materials companies in the world, the suit says.

A 76-foor long tow boat, the Kiowa captained on July 23, 2020, by Kenneth Stubbs, was pushing a 195-foot barge, together nearly the length of a football field and weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds, the suit says.  Stubbs was working for Material Services, the suit continues.

In the aftermath of the capsizing of the boat, various city and state agencies were dispatched to aid in the rescue and investigate.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued a report on the incident after reviewing video of the barge’s wake. “Clear video of the Kiowa prior to the incident shows a wake made by the Kiowa and the barge. The wake bouncing off the walls of the river created an even bigger movement in the water. The Chicago River is a no wake river,” Swindle reported. The report concluded by saying the “cause of the accident” was the “force of wake” created by the tug boat and barge.

At the time of incident, a Chicago Fire Department official speculated that a passing boat also may have contributed to the capsizing.

The Chicago Police Department deployed a rescue swimmer and two divers, who jumped from a CFD helicopter to search under the capsized boat, where Victor was found. The 16-foot motorboat was captained by a family friend, Celio San Gabriel, continued the suit filed by Gallagher, a partner in the Loop law firm Wise Morrissey LLC. The family is also represented by attorney Manuel Cardenas of Manuel Cardenas and Associates P.C.

Five other passengers were taken to the University of Illinois Hospital, in conditions ranging from fair to good, officials said. Three refused medical treatment.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

For more information, call Mike Gallagher at 773 550 5996 or John Gorman at 312 315 2662.