LAKE JAMES — An Illinois man died of an apparent drowning Thursday afternoon shortly before 1 p.m. at one of the two sandbars near the beach at Pokagon State Park after attempting to retrieve his boat that had drifted away from the sandbar.

The man, identified as Rocky R. Rutledge, 61, of Romeoville, Illinois, was taken to shore and pronounced dead at the scene. Family has been notified.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Sgt. Patrick Heidenreich said Rutledge was with his family on the sandbar when his boat, apparently a rental, began to drift away from them.

“He tried to swim after it and retrieve it,” Heidenreich said. “He went under in deeper water.”

There are two sandbars in front of the beach at Potawatomi Inn, one that’s relatively small and another much larger stretch of submerged sand. With the exception of an area that leads to the Lone Tree Point neighborhood of Lake James, the lake bottom drops off steeply around the sandbars, including in between the two sandbars.

A bystander at the sandbar went after Rutledge to retrieve him and try to help.

Heidenreich said some nurses that were also in the area went to help and began performing CPR until they were able to get to the docks at the beach at Pokagon.

From there, emergency rescue crews took over performing CPR while Rutledge and his family were at the beach.

Parkview Samaritan Helicopter was called to the park with initial plans to have the landing zone be near the scene, on the lawn of the Potawatomi Inn.

Instead, the helicopter landed in the empty parking lot at the toboggan run, with police and fire rescue blocking traffic to create a landing zone.

Other agencies responding to the scene included Fremont Fire Rescue, Angola Fire Rescue, Steuben County Emergency Medical Service, Steuben County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana State Police, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Pokagon State Park staff.

This was the first drowning of 2020 in Steuben County.

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