The Chicago River drowning victim who died attempting to retrieve his dropped cell phone from ice floating on the frigid waters was “an extremely intelligent individual” who loved learning trivia, taking part in online role playing games and, though he didn’t graduate from college, was finally getting his life on the right track.
That description of 26-year-old Ken Hoang, who was visiting Chicago from St. Paul, Minnesota, comes from his brother, David, who spoke to The Chicago Tribune after the accident that claimed his brother’s life early Monday morning.
Hoang’s girlfriend Lauren Li, 21, is still missing and presumed to be dead by police. Hoang’s cousin, Quoc Viet Phan Hoang, was pulled out by rescuers and is recovering at a Chicago hospital.
The Cook County coroner’s office ruled that Ken Hoang drowned in the Chicago River and that alcohol played a role in the tragedy.
Quoc Viet Phan Hoang told police that his cousin was taking pictures of the frozen river with his cell phone when the device slipped from his hand and landed on a chunk of floating ice. Though metal barriers are in place to keep pedestrian away from the waters of the Chicago River, Ken Hoang stepped over to try to get his phone back.
That’s when he fell in, according to his cousin’s account reported by WLS TV News in Chicago.
Quoc Viet Phan Hoang issued a statement from his hospital bed Tuesday.
“I lost two good friends,” he said. “It’s not easy seeing your friends drift away and having one die in your arms. I have never felt so helpless in my life. Thank you for everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”
As they were in the water, passer-by Jose Cuevas heard a voice in the darkness.
“Please hurry, my friend is dying. Please, I can’t hold on any longer,” Cuevas said he heard the voice plead. He immediately called 911 and Chicago police and fire department rescuers arrived within minutes.
But it was already too late for Ken Hoang and Lauren Li.
Li’s father, Ben Li, said he had an ominous feeling about his daughter’s road trip with her two friends. The University of Minnesota honors student was on break between semesters.
“I didn’t want her to go at first, but I just gave in,” Li told the Tribune. “Because I love her so much and I wanted her to be happy. But it turned out so bad. Now that won’t matter at all.”
Li was the first to step over the railing to aid Ken Hoang. When she slipped and fell into the Chicago River waters, Hoang’s cousin followed in an attempt to pull them out — and also fell in.
“Maybe God wanted (Lauren) to just live to 21,” said Ben Li, who is now in a Chicago hotel waiting for searchers to recover his daughter’s body. “She was very happy in her 21 years because we never pushed her and she achieved many things.”