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Man swept off breakwall dies

December 24, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY – The deadliest year ever on the Great Lakes got even deadlier when a La Porte County man died Friday night after being swept off the breakwall near the lighthouse in Washington Park.

Indiana Department of Law Enforcement said 20-year-old Slater Harkleroad of Union Mills, and 22-year-old John Hammons of La Porte were walking along the breakwall about 7:30 p.m. Friday when they fell into the water.

They were “knocked over by crashing waves approximately 10-15 feet high,” a statement from IDNR said.

Harkleroad was taken to Franciscan Health Michigan City, where he was pronounced dead. Hammons was treated at the scene and released.

After the two were knocked into the water, Hammons was able to swim back to the breakwall, according to IDNR.

He “tried to throw a life ring out to rescue his friend,” but Harlkleroad “did not resurface,” according to IDRN. He was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to the hospital.

Funeral services for Harkleroad are pending at the Lakeview Funeral Home & Crematory in La Porte, where owner Casmir Pulaski has offered to provide the services for no cost.

“This is a family that was known to us, and they just lost their only child right before Christmas,” he said. “It’s an unimaginable loss. We told them not to worry about the financial obligations.”

Pulaski said he was familiar with the family because Lakeview had provided services for a grandparent a few years ago.

“These are people we’ve served in the past, and they came back to us for help. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to,” Pulaski said. “We’d do this for anyone in a situation like this, losing an only child at Christmas.”

While autopsy results are not complete, Harkleroad would be the 40th person, at the least, to drown in Lake Michigan this year, and the 111th on the Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. The organization has tracked drownings since 2010 and this was the first year there were more than 100.

It’s the second drowning in Michigan City. On Aug. 27, Mark Gaff was pulled from the water off Washington Park beach, where a nurse performed CPR. But Gaff died at the hospital three days later.

The Michigan City Police and Fire departments, and La Porte County EMS assisted in the rescue operation.

—From staff reports

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