Woman's body found in river after car discovered submerged

Vehicle appears to have driven off road at Lawndale and Ogden

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By Bob Uphues


Illinois State Police continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a woman whose body was recovered from the Des Plaines River at the base of the Barrypoint Road bridge on the afternoon of Jan. 24, hours after first responders towed an abandoned car from the middle of the river about 500 yards upstream.

The Cook County Medical Examiner on Monday identified the victim as 23-year-old Jacqueline Morales, of Harwood Heights. The cause of her death remains under investigation, according to the medical examiner.

A Riverside resident called 911 at about 8:20 a.m. to report the car in the river after seeing it from the front window of her home, according to Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel. The car, which had sustained driver's side damage, was half submerged and facing westbound in the water.

The car apparently floated about 100 yards downstream from where police believe it left the roadway, at the intersection of Lawndale and Ogden avenues, sometime during the overnight hours.

Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley was one of two firefighters who waded out to the car to inspect it while it was still in the river. He said the driver's side airbag had deployed, the keys were in the ignition and there were a couple of jackets in the back seat. There was no one inside the car, whose doors were closed and windows rolled up.

Based on where officials believe the car careened over the river bank, the car appears to have been headed north on Lawndale Avenue when it failed to make the turn onto Ogden Avenue and crashed into the river.

A Riverside police officer reportedly did make phone contact with the owner of the vehicle, a Chicago woman. It was unclear immediately whether or not she might have information about what happened.

While early information pointed toward possibly two people having been inside the vehicle at the time of the crash, it appears that investigators now believe there was only one occupant.

Buckley, interviewed at the scene of where the woman's body was recovered on Sunday afternoon, told the Landmark that "through the investigative things that [state police and Lyons police] have done already this morning, they determined there was only one person in the vehicle, which is why we're confident that this is the person from that vehicle."

The car was towed from the river at about 10:20 a.m., and first responders searched the riverbanks downstream of the crash site on foot and by drone throughout Sunday morning and early in the afternoon. 

Initially those efforts came up empty, but when they deployed a drone to search near the Barrypoint Road bridge at about 12:55 p.m., they discovered the victim in the water on the west side of the bridge.

At about 3 p.m., firefighters using a boat and recovered the body from the water.

Reached Monday, Illinois State Police said they had no additional information to provide.

"The search has concluded but the investigation remains open and ongoing," said Trooper Jayme Bufford, public information officer for the state police.

Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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