Man Drowns Trying to Get Bottle in Lake Michigan: Police

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    Michael Hilling's girlfriend says he jumped into Lake Michigan to retrieve her water bottle, and drowned.

    A couple celebrating their one-year anniversary was torn apart when the man apparently tried to retrieve a water bottle from Lake Michigan and drowned.

    It happened early New Year’s Day near Buckingham Fountain.

    Crews pulled 19-year-old Michael Hilling, of Rock, Mich., from the water near 501 S. Lake Shore Dr. at 12:15 a.m., the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said.

    “We were there to celebrate -- it was our one-year anniversary,’’ according to Jessica Woytoynik, who was reached by phone Saturday morning as she was leaving Northwestern Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:36 a.m.

    “It was our anniversary at midnight,’’ she said, choking back emotion.

    Woytoynik said she grew up with Hilling in Michigan and has known him since third grade.

    Woytoynik called 911 and told responding officers that she and her boyfriend were sitting on the edge of an embankment near the lake when her water bottle dropped in the water, according to a police report.

    Hilling jumped into the water to try and retrieve the bottle but began struggling.

    ”I tried to make it to him but he was 20 feet away from shore and his head went under water,’’ Woytoynik said.

    Woytoynik, of the South Loop, had moved to the city to study fine art at Columbia College, but is planning on moving back to Michigan.

    Hilling’s body was recovered by a Chicago Fire Department scuba team after it was in the water for about 30 minutes, the report said.

    Hilling was initially taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition, police News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said. An autopsy is scheduled for later Saturday.

    Belmont Area detectives are conducting a death investigation.