Search for toddler lost in Whitewater River enters fourth day

Mitchell O'Banion
Mitchell O'Banion

CEDAR GROVE, IN (FOX19) - Rescue crews on Saturday entered their fourth day of searching for 17-month-old boy that fell into the Whitewater River on Wednesday afternoon.

Crews resumed the search Saturday morning. The chaplain of the New Trenton Fire Department is expected to make a statement on behalf of the toddler's family Saturday afternoon.

State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Gary Catron says airboats, kayaks and other boats were being used Friday to scour a 23-mile stretch of the Whitewater River.

Crews say they have found a piece of clothing that the boy may have been wearing when he was lost.

A helicopter was expected to begin an aerial search Friday afternoon. Catron says about 50 people are involved in the search. "We've turned around several times on something that we saw and it ended up being a piece of trash, or a piece of shirt or something like that, and we just try to check them all, and clear all areas as we go," said Steve Miller, Indiana Conservation's Officer with Department of Natural Resources.

Officials got a call Wednesday afternoon that there was a toddler in the river, east of Cedar Grove, near the Whitewater Campground on U.S. 52.

Police say the 17-month-old was out canoeing with his parents, Carmen Sickmeier, 34, and Lawrence J. O'banion II, 33, both of Independence, when the kayak they were in capsized. Indiana State Police say that Sickmeier and O'banion got out of the river and ran down the road for help.

The Department of Natural Resources is heading up the search and investigation. Officials say the search process is repetitive in nature due to no visibility in the water, and rescue crews must check areas of the river over and over again.

Indiana Conservation Officer William Browne said about 75 searchers looked for the toddler on Thursday, with some searchers in the river and others looking along the banks.

"It's a very dangerous situation out here for search and rescue officers," said Browne. "This is 4.88 feet high, higher than usual. The river is moving quick and these guys are doing everything they can, working very hard to bring closure to the situation."

"I think there is still optimism, certainly that the improving water conditions, if nothing else, will make it more likely for a recovery," said Miller.

Franklin County Sheriff Ken Murphy added that the area where the toddler went missing is a dangerous stretch. He said the couple wasn't familiar with the river and it took authorities about a half-hour to locate them and get them back to the location where they lost their child.

"This river is way underestimated by the tourists that visit. It's a very dangerous stretch of water," said Murphy.

Crews are searching a 21-mile section of the Whitewater River for the missing toddler, which brings crews into Ohio.

According to preliminary reports, the 17-month-old was wearing a life jacket when he fell out of the kayak, but officials say he was not wearing the life jacket correctly. The boy's life jacket was found with one of the straps unbuckled. Sickmeier and O'banion were not wearing their life jackets.

Murphy said the family is grieving. Investigators believe the case is nothing but a tragic accident.

"They realize this is not going to be a favorable outcome," he said.

It's an emotional situation for searchers, as well.

"I have children, grandchildren, its rough," said one volunteer. "When you're out there you think you've seen something, it's tough."

"We'll cry, to be honest, I'm not afraid to tell that," said another volunteer. "There are times where you heart is just tore out."

Crews from Franklin County, the Indiana State Police, and the New Trenton Fire Department are all assisting with the recovery operation. Browne said crews are searching on both the Indiana and Ohio sides of the river.

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