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Blue Island village board member drowns near Whiting

Tribune reporter

A village board member from Blue Island drowned while boating at a beach in northwest Indiana, Coast Guard officials said today.

Michael Janko, a village trustee and lifetime resident of the south suburb, was found after a six-hour search of Lake Michigan near Wihala Beach in Whiting, Ind., said Boatswain’s Mate First-Class Derek Chabot of the U.S. Coast Guard Calumet Harbor station.

Janko was on a boat in the water a few yards off the beach around 4 p.m. and jumped into the water, Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas said.

Janko began to struggle in the water, and two friends who were with him on the boat jumped in to help but were unable to rescue Janko, Vargas said. After Janko submerged, police and firefighters from neighboring Hammond, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard searched the water.

His body was found around 11 p.m. by Indiana Department of Natural Resouces crew. Vargas was married and had two high school-age daughters, Vargas said.

“It’s a tremendous loss for the community and me personally,” said Vargas, who had campaigned with Janko this spring and had named Janko Mayor Pro-Tem of the village board.

Janko had represented Blue Island’s 5th Ward since at least 2000, and served as mayor of his hometown for a month this spring, Vargas said.

“I took his picture at the mayor’s desk and joked with him,” Vargas said. “I told him, ‘Mike, you made history. You were mayor of Blue Island.’”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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