September 20, 2014

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‘We just wanted to have some fun’

Friends, family recall ‘Kiki,’ events leading to drowning

LORAIN — Christopher “Kiki” Pacheco wasn’t afraid of anything.
The 15-year-old, who had just finished the eighth grade at Clearview’s Durling Middle School, loved life and was fearless about embracing it, his family said.
“He woke up each day knowing the day was going to be a good one,” said older brother Victor Pacheco. “Man, he was a great kid.”
On Thursday evening, after shooting hoops all day with two friends, the group decided to visit a teenage girl who lives along Lake Erie.
One of Christopher’s buddies, Alex Zsigray of Harrison Avenue, said they wanted to go swimming, and nobody thought twice about whether the decision was wise.
“Swimming in my pool was one thing, but it’s only about four feet deep,” Alex said. “We wanted to go down to the lake. We didn’t think it was a big deal. We just wanted to have some fun.”
At his Grant Avenue home at the time, Victor, 19, said he was doing random things, never imaging that his little brother was getting ready to get into something he couldn’t get himself out of.
“If I would have known he was going to do something like that, he would have been right here with me,” he said Friday.
At times, Victor was barely audible and mumbling, and at others, repeating to himself and anyone around that he should have been there.
“We could have done something else, anything else,” Victor said. “We could have gone to the race track. That’s what we were going to do today.”
But Christopher was spending the day and night with Alex and Jacob Carman, Alex’s 16-year-old stepbrother, which was not unusual. The three always were together.
Whether it was walking to the nearby Dairy Mart for snacks, playing video games and basketball or checking for girls, the boys were almost glued at the hip, said Glenda Carman, Alex’s mother.
“He was like my son that didn’t stay here,” she said. “Kiki could have lived here and it wouldn’t have bothered me.”
Carman said she was home Thursday when — after feeding the boys dinner — they begged to go to the lake. A friend who lived by the beach had invited them over, she said.
Alex promised they would be back before dark. Carman said she allowed it because she was told the 15-year-old girl’s parents would be home. She even let Alex take her car to the West Second Street home.
What the boys didn’t tell her was that they were going to Harmon’s Beach. Had she known, she never would have allowed it, she said.
When Carman was 16, just a little older than Christopher and the same age as her son, she and some friends decided to walk through what they thought was waist-deep water to the breakwall at Harmon’s Beach.
  Suddenly, a current grabbed her, and she was pulled through a gap in the breakwall, she said.
“It was like 20 or 30 feet deep, I think, because I couldn’t feel my feet,” she said. “I started screaming. My sister tried to help me, but the water was too much for her, too.”
A man who seemed to appear out of nowhere plucked Carman from the water and swam with her to shore. She said she has never been back to Harmon’s Beach.
“I just didn’t put it together until my phone rang and my son was telling me they couldn’t find Kiki,” she said.
Alex never heard his mother’s story until Friday.  But it’s eerily similar to what played out Thursday night when the group was in the water.
Just before 8 p.m., the boys waded into the chest-deep water. Suddenly, a wave rolled over their heads and they were pushed further into the lake, Alex said, and the sandy bottom beneath their feet disappeared.
“It was like the bottom had just been chopped off. It was gone,” Alex said.
Alex said they all desperately tried to swim back to shore. The undercurrent was strong and, at times, it felt like they weren’t going to make it.
That’s when Christopher started panicking, Alex said. He grabbed hold of Alex, and Alex said he tried to put his friend on his back. When that didn’t work, Jacob tried to do the same, he said.
But Christopher, who police say probably was the group’s weakest swimmer, was in too much of a frenzy to let the boys pull him to safety, Alex said. He went under, and he never resurfaced, Alex said.
“I looked back at Jacob, and Kiki wasn’t there,” Alex said. “He was just gone.”
The brothers finally made it back to shore and told their friend who was sitting on the beach messing with her cell phone to call her dad. Originally, she had gone into the lake as well, but turned back before too long.
The teenage girl’s father jumped into the water, while someone else called 911. Alex said he just waited on the beach.
“It’s like a bad dream, and I’m waiting to wake up,” he said Friday. “You start to get mad when you don’t wake up, and it gets worse and worse.”
The Lorain Police Department’s dive team started their search for Christopher about 8:13 p.m. Thursday. They continued for more than four hours with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard. Finally, at 12:40 a.m. Friday, the first day’s search was called off.
It resumed at 7:30 a.m. Friday, and at 11:35 a.m. Christopher’s body was pulled from the water.
“This is the first fatality of the year, and it never gets easy,” said Sgt. Dan Smith, dive team commander.
Likewise, those who knew Christopher did not take the news well.
Tears flowed freely from the dozen or so family members that gathered near the search site and watched as his body was taken away in an ambulance. They hugged, cried and shook their heads in disbelief.
Hours later, the group gathered back at the Pachecos’ home wanted to talk not about how Christopher died, but how he lived.
“He was one of those kids that if you were down picked you up,” said Edwin Diaz, a cousin. “He would make you want to laugh even if you didn’t feel like it.”
Victor Pacheco said his brother, the youngest of four, was funny, outgoing and could be a little goofy at times, especially when he would strut around the house with his baseball hat cocked to one side.
“That boy knew he was happy, all the time, just happy,” he said.
Alex still can’t believe the kid he hung out with is gone.
“When I came home (Thursday) night, his plate of food was still on the counter. I had to clean his mess up just like any other day,” he said. “Having him here was like having another brother.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.