Ontario’s police watchdog is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a 29-year-old man whose body was recovered from the Sydenham River in Wallaceburg on Wednesday.
The man entered the river early Tuesday evening after fleeing Chatham-Kent police, who were responding to a suspicious persons report around 6:15 p.m. in the area of Wallace Street and McDougall Street, stated an SIU media release.
When officers arrived a man and woman fled on foot, and the man then proceeded to enter the river, the SIU said of the preliminary information released.
While the man disappeared in the water, the woman was able to swim to safety, Chatham-Kent police reported.
“Officers and civilians also entered the waters in an attempt to aid the man, but they were unable to locate him,” the SIU said. A drone was also used by police in their search for the man.
His body was recovered from the river just before noon on Wednesday near a footbridge in the downtown area
Two investigators and one forensic investigator have been assigned to the case, the SIU said.
A post-mortem is scheduled for Thursday in London.
The SIU is urging anyone who may have information about this investigation to contact the lead investigator at 1-800-787-8529. The unit is also urging anyone who may have any video evidence related to this incident to upload that video through the SIU website.
“We would like to send our thoughts and prayers to everyone involved in this tragic incident,” Chatham-Kent police said in a statement.
The Special Investigations Unit investigates incidents involving police where there has been a death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.
While police have not yet identified the man, Candy Greenbird, who was there when the body was recovered from the river, confirmed it was her brother, Martel Riley.
Greenbird said she and Riley didn’t grow up together but had reconnected about a year ago after their father died. She also noted Riley’s mother died about two years ago.
She said she had heard about an incident involving her brother and came down to the river. Although Greenbird and her brother had recently drifted apart, she said she was feeling the loss.
“It kind of hit me harder than I thought it would,” she said.
Several bystanders at the scene Wednesday had heard Riley was wearing a backpack when he plunged into the water.
Wednesday morning, a dive team of Chatham-Kent firefighters was part of the search and recovery efforts. Their boat circled the footbridge near where Riley disappeared, using a sonar that showed areas of mass in the water. Assistant fire Chief Ken Labonte declined comment, saying he was hesitant to provide details due to concerns about inadvertently releasing information about the police investigation.
Prior to a the fire department’s rescue boat arriving on scene, a police officer snapped photos of a vehicle in the parking lot of a nearby apartment building. That vehicle was later towed from the scene.