Missing swimmer’s body recovered from Lake St. Clair

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published August 15, 2018

 A Coast Guard boat is moored at U.S. Coast Guard Station St. Clair Shores Aug. 15.

A Coast Guard boat is moored at U.S. Coast Guard Station St. Clair Shores Aug. 15.

Photo by Kristyne Demske

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — What started out as a happy day of celebration turned tragic for a couple who had been enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon sailing on Lake St. Clair.

Matthew Seraphin DeCouto, 61, of St. Clair Shores, died Aug. 14 of an apparent drowning after jumping into the water to rescue his fiancé after she wasn’t able to swim back to their boat.

The couple, who had departed from the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, were celebrating the fiancé’s birthday and had been sailing and swimming. They were roughly a mile from the GPYC when they began swimming.

They had both jumped into the water several times. According to a Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department report, the boat was unanchored and neither of them were tethered to the boat or wearing a personal floatation device.

After her final dive into the water, the fiancé realized that she couldn’t get back to the boat because it had drifted too far. She called out to DeCouto for help, and he jumped in after her. Both tried to swim back to the boat, but the current was pulling them toward the shore, according to the report.

After about two minutes of trying to swim back to the boat, she told police she looked behind her and realized that DeCouto had fallen back. He told her to continue toward the boat and come back with the boat to get him. She tried to reach the boat, but after another five minutes of swimming, she realized that she wasn’t going to make it, so she flagged down a passing sailboat for help.

A man on the sailboat threw a life ring to her and placed a “man overboard” call on marine radio, then circled back to pick up the woman. He told police he had noticed that she seemed to be too far from her vessel to be swimming. After getting her out of the water and not seeing DeCouto, the man contacted the GPYC, which then alerted the U.S. Coast Guard and the Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department — which has a dive team.

Farms Public Safety and the Coast Guard responded immediately after getting that call around 5:22 p.m. The Farms sent scout cars to the area of Lake Shore Road and Tonnacour Place, where the boat and swimmers had last been seen, and activated their dive team and one from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.

U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Justin Bommer said the search began around 6 p.m. and continued all night and into the next morning.

“We conducted over 14 searches and saturated the area,” said Bommer of the Coast Guard’s efforts, which included the use of a helicopter from USCG Air Station Detroit and several boats from USCG Station St. Clair Shores. Based on calculations with the current, he said they exhaustively searched a large area where DeCouto could have drifted, but didn’t find him.

Bommer said the Farms set up a command post at Pier Park.

“There (were) many local boaters in the area that aided in the search,” he said.

As dusk fell on Pier Park Aug. 14, members of DeCouto’s family waited at Pier Park for news about their missing loved one.

At around 10 a.m. Aug. 15, the Coast Guard announced that it had suspended its search. However, Bommer said the Michigan State Police and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office had dive teams in the water using sonar technology to see if they could locate a body. He said the local Coast Guard doesn’t have this technology.

Officials and family members were still hoping for a happier outcome as of the morning of Aug. 15. Bommer said he had been told that DeCouto was an experienced swimmer and scuba diver.

But those hopes were dashed when DeCouto’s body was discovered by the dive team from the Detroit Police Department around 1:30 p.m., according to Farms Public Safety Detective Lt. Richard Rosati. DeCouto was recovered about 300 yards from the original location of the boat, Rosati said.

“It’s a really sad case,” Bommer said. “All of our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”

According to his online obituary, DeCouto is survived by several family members, including his parents, four siblings, two daughters and a son.