Decatur Man Drowns Saving Daughter
A Decatur man drowned after rescuing his daughter from deep water on the Illinois River west of Watts, Okla., in Adair County, according to Capt. Bill James of the Oklahoma Scenic River Commission.
Michael P. Wheaton, Sr., 42, drowned in an area known as Carnes Ford Saturday evening. Wheaton’s 7-year-old daughter was wading in the water when she stepped into a hole and went under, James said.
Wheaton managed to get his daughter out of the deep water but couldn’t keep himself from going under.
Jessica Sellers, 37, a female friend who was swimming with them, attempted to push Wheaton into shallow water, James said. But he believes because Wheaton was much larger than her and because the water was over their heads, she was unable to save him.
Another group of people swimming nearby pulled Wheaton’s body from the river and loaded him into a truck, James said. He said the group called for help and met two officers on US Highway 412. Wheaton was taken by ambulance to Memorial Hospital in Siloam Springs, where he was pronounced dead, officials said.
Officials are awaiting a coroner’s report to confirm if alcohol was a contributing factor. According to an incident report, Sellers told authorities that Wheaton had drank about 11 cans of beer during the afternoon.
Wheaton suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a preexisting lung condition, James said. He said the condition may have contributed to Wheaton’s drowning.
Capt. James says no life jackets were being used.
Carnes Ford is a low-water road crossing of the river located approximately 8 miles west of the US 59 Highway Bridge.
Wheaton lived in an apartment complex in Decatur. A neighbor described him as a loving and caring man, who loved children.
“When we found out why he passed away it wasn’t that big of a surprise, I mean he would do anything for her,” said Amber Gyalog.