Opportunity lost to investigate accident

Published on September 24th, 2018

by Dorothy Tucker, CBS Chicago
Questions still surround the death of a long-time sailor who fell overboard during the 2018 Chicago to Mackinac Race, a status that will continue now that it is learned how the key piece of evidence has been destroyed.

Shortly after the race start on July 21, Jon Santarelli fell overboard when a large wave hit the Transpac 52 Imedi he was crewing on. The crew reported that his flotation device – which is supposed to inflate automatically upon contact with water – did not inflate.

But the opportunity to investigate the vest has been lost as the vest was cremated along with the sailor’s body. According to a source at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, when Santarelli was found July 28 “there was a flotation device and jacket on the deceased when he came to the office.”

But “no one, family or otherwise wanted the device. So it was sent to the Proko Funeral Home in Kenosha, Wisconsin where the body was cremated.”

Which means the body and all accompanying clothing and related materials were cremated.

“I find that astounding,” said Dwight Ritter, a California attorney who specializes in maritime accidents. “This is a national concern. Why did that jacket not operate? We don’t know the brand. We don’t know the make. It’s a serious question that will go unanswered because the jacket has been cremated and destroyed.”

When Santarelli’s body was found on July 28, the Chicago Yacht Club released a statement that said “a full investigation can take place, including an analysis of the PFD, (personal flotation device).”

If the Chicago Yacht Club did conduct an investigation, they’re not saying. The U.S. Coast Guard did not investigate as a spokesperson said the agency only investigates commercial vessels like tour boats. A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department said it did not investigate because there was no crime committed.

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