Missing person found in water behind his boat

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:04 AM

Cunningham told police he went to help Kirby with a leak in his boat, but only found another friend of Kirby’s sleeping on the boat.

The friend, Richard Birdsley, said that he had spent the day with Kirby on Friday, then the two had gone to the Holiday Inn that night. At closing time, he could not find Kirby and returned to the boat alone, assuming that Kirby was already asleep in his cabin, police reported.

Cunningham said he searched the boat and then the marina, locating a sandal on the dock across from Kirby’s slip, then a sandal floating in the water nearby. Cunningham — who said he had been friends with Kirby for 10 years — said he tried calling the missing man’s cell phone, but it kept going straight to voice-mail.

Police reported that Cunningham was under the impression he could not report someone missing for more than 24 hours. After dragging the water himself with a hook, Cunningham called 911 on Saturday afternoon.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department Marine Patrol arrived on the scene with its new fire boat that has a side-scan sonar device, said Sgt. Keith Koeman.

“They did get the image with the sonar that was consistent with that of a body, then verified it with the robot,” Koeman said.

The robot, which is on a tether, confirmed the position of the body for the divers, police said. However, when the robot was near the body, it floated to the surface at the rear of his boat, so the divers were not needed.

The body was confirmed to be Kirby, police said. It was taken by North Ottawa Community Hospital ambulance to Holland Hospital, where an autopsy was to be conducted.

Koeman said this was the first drowning in Ottawa County this year.

Police said Kirby had been drinking during the day and evening, and that alcohol was probably a factor in the drowning, although toxicology reports would not be available for several days.

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