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Teen drowns in Millhouse Bayou

Tribune Staff • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:38 AM

Cody Lee Maatman was fishing with two other boys at the base of the Millhouse Bayou bridge on Mercury Drive shortly after noon. That's when the boys decided to swim to a raft out in the bayou, said Lt. Steve Kempker of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department. This is something the boys had done in the past.

The two younger boys made it all the way to the raft, a few hundred feet from the bridge. Maatman, who was wearing a shirt and long pants, was having trouble and decided to turn around, Kempker said.

Witnesses on shore said they saw the boy struggle, go under and never resurface, Kempker said. Witnesses called 911.

A couple in a fishing boat picked up the boys on the raft, then helped the emergency responders search for the missing boy.

Divers arrived at the scene and searched the area where witnesses said the boy went down — about 50-80 yards out from the bridge.

That’s where the boy was eventually found, by a diver working by feel, the lieutenant said.

Maatman was found about 8 feet deep in the area where the water flows out of the bayou into the river, Kempker said. He was not tangled in the weeds, but was in the silt, which was 3- to 4-feet deep.

“Divers said they had difficulty when they touched the bottom. They were kind of sucked in,” Kempker said. “That could cause panic.”

The deep silt also caused problems for searchers working with side-scan sonar devices. The beam sent down was bouncing off the silt and not penetrating to the bottom, which gave false readings.

To see more photos from the scene, click here.

Divers from the Sheriff’s Department, North Ottawa County Dive Team and from southern Ottawa County took turns working their way through the mucky bayou.

Kempker said the work was very strenuous and they had to change out the divers regularly for safety reasons.

Members of the Coast Guard also joined the search on the water’s surface, as well as from the Coast Guard helicopter above. Kempker said they called off the helicopter after a short time because the water was too murky for them to see anything from the air.

Marta Sloan watched from the bridge as a Sheriff’s Department inflatable boat worked its way back and forth through the bayou with its scanning device.

“It’s so sad,” she said. “I was coming back from my son’s and I notice all this commotion.”

Sloan said she had been on the bayou with her daughter a couple of weeks ago.

“We could stand up out here for quite a ways,” she said. “But it’s very murky out there. Some places you step and sink quite a bit.”

Todd Herber, 16, was riding his bicycle with some friends on Wednesday when he came upon the search scene. He said he kayaks on the bayou regularly, but he wouldn’t swim there.

“It’s really mucky,” Herber said.

Sheila Shriver was also watching the activity from the bridge. She lives just east of 148th Avenue, a short distance from the bayou.

Shriver teared up when she heard the name of the boy who drowned.

“I don’t know him, but I know the family,” she said as she brushed a tear from her eye. “They’re a wonderful family. My kids go to school with their kids.”

Shriver said she was also worried about her own children.

“I have a 14-year-old and they are always playing down there and fishing,” she said. “It’s very scary. It makes you want to give your kids an extra hug and kiss."

Longtime area resident Denise Casemier said this was an unusual incident.

“I’ve lived here 32 years,” she said. “There’s never been a drowning here in more than 30 years.”

Kempker also noted that he was not aware of any drownings in the bayou in recent history. There have been several drownings over the years in other area bayous and the Grand River.

Cody Maatman would have been a 10th-grader this fall at Grand Haven High School.

Keith Konarska, superintendent of Grand Haven Area Public Schools, said he's "deeply saddened" by the teen's death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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