Illinois River Drowning Victim Had Just Moved To Tahlequah

Sunday, June 5th 2011, 3:17 pm
By: News On 6

Dan Bewley, News On 6

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Oklahoma -- The body of the latest victim in an Illinois River drowning was recovered Sunday.

Xenepher Wiley, Jr., 18, had recently graduated from high school in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Tahlequah on Thursday.

"He just knew everybody and he was just nice to everybody, just friendly," said Drusilla Nelson, Xenepher's mother.

Drusilla Nelson could hardly believe how her life has turned. Her 18-year old son was missing.

Xenepher Wiley was last seen on Friday. He was with a group of friends swimming in the Illinois River from the new river bridge to the old river bridge, a distance of about an eighth of a mile.

He was not wearing a life jacket.

"I would like it if people didn't swim in this river at all and if, I guess, if you do you use a life jacket," Nelson said.

Wiley had just graduated high school in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Tahlequah on Thursday to get a fresh start as he moved in adulthood.

His drowning is the third time in less than a week that someone has drowned in the Illinois River.

Authorities say that hasn't happened since, at least, 1992. The first was a Perkins woman who fell out of her raft over the holiday weekend.

The second was a man who was jumping off the Lake Frances Dam near Watts. The Scenic River Commission says the common factor in all of the cases was none were wearing life jackets.

"In all the years that I've been here, going on three decades, I've never worked a drowning that someone had a life jacket on," said Ed Fite of the OK Scenic Rivers Commission.

Fite says the water was so strong on Sunday that this current under the new river bridge is equal to 60 pounds of pressure on a person's leg, strong enough to move a car.

When Wiley was swimming on Friday the water was a foot higher and current stronger.

Authorities remained on the river until the body was recovered. Due to state budget cuts they were not able to have as much help as they would typically have.

That's what had Wiley's family so upset. They're mostly all from St. Louis and have few choices to turn for help.

Saturday the river was full of people and search boats, Sunday only two boats trekked back and forth over the water.

"I would like it if they could have more people and more boats to try and find him," Nelson said.

Regardless, Nelson says she's not leaving until she can take her son home.

"I just want to be able to find him because I can't, I can't leave until I find him," she said.

Wiley's body was found not to far from where he went missing.