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Man Drowns Trying To Retrieve Girlfriend's Water Bottle On Anniversary

By Anna Deem in News on Jan 2, 2011 7:30PM

Photo by: lurie
New Years Eve should have been a happy occasion for Michael Hilling and Jessica Woytonik, who were at the lakefront celebrating their first anniversary as a couple. The evening took a turn for the worst when Woytonik accidentally dropped her water bottle into Lake Michigan and Hilling, 19, jumped in to retrieve it and ended up drowning.

"We were there to celebrate," an emotional Jessica Woytonik said by phone Saturday morning from Northwestern Memorial Hospital to the Chicago Sun-Times, where Hilling was pronounced dead. "It was our anniversary at midnight." Hilling, from Upper Peninsula, Michigan, was in Chicago visiting Woytonik, a student at Columbia College. Both grew up together in Michigan, but didn't start dating until last December 31.

On New Year's Eve, Hilling and Woytonik were sitting on the edge of an embankment at the lake when Woytonik's water bottle fell into the water, according to a police report. Hilling jumped into the water to try and retrieve it but instantly began struggling. "I tried to make it to him but he was 20 feet away from shore and his head went under water," Woytonik said. His body was recovered by a fire department scuba team after it had been in the water for 30 minutes. Hilling was taken to Northwestern Hospital in critical condition.

Debra Jean Hilling, Hilling's mother, told the Sun-Times how shocked she was that her son who, "could only dog-paddle," had jumped into the lake. "It's bizarre. I don't even understand it," she said. "The boy couldn't swim, so I don't understand why he's going out into the open water in the middle of December to retrieve a water bottle."