PERU — A 25-year-old Danville native whose body was found last month in LaSalle County died from drowning, Coroner Richard Ploch said, but the condition of the body has impeded the investigation into whether foul play might have been involved.
Ploch on Monday released the cause of death of Jelani Day, an Illinois State University student. He did not declare the death a homicide.
“After consideration of the currently known circumstances surrounding his death, based upon review of the extensive available investigation, medical and dental information, and after postmortem examination with multiple ancillary and special studies, the cause of death of this positively identified male, Jelani Jesse Day, is drowning,” Ploch said in a press release.
“Unfortunately, there is no specific positive test at autopsy for drowning,” Ploch wrote. “Although the examination was suboptimal based upon the degree of decomposition and predation activity while the body was within the river during a period of warm water, there was no evidence of antemortem injury, such as manual strangulation, an assault or altercation, sharp, blunt or gunshot injury, infection, tumor, natural disease, congenital abnormality, or significant drug intoxication.”
It is not known how Mr. Day went into the Illinois River, where his body was found Sept. 4. His car had been discovered about 10 days earlier in a wooded area of Peru. Hallie Bezner, the attorney for the Day family, professed skepticism earlier that Mr. Day would have abandoned the car there on a hot, muggy day and then walked about a mile to go swimming. Peru is about one hour north of Bloomington-Normal.
There was no indication that Mr. Day had ever been to LaSalle County. His family said Mr. Day was a capable swimmer and had competed on the Danville High School swim team.
It is not known if Monday’s announcement will affect a planned march Tuesday in Peru.
Demonstrators led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other representatives of his Rainbow PUSH Coalition plan to march in Peru at noon Tuesday to draw attention to the investigation of Mr. Day’s death.
Jackson said last week in Champaign that Rainbow PUSH plans to stage the march to demand action in the investigation into how Mr. Day died. However, Peru Police Chief Robert Pyska said on the police department’s Facebook page that Jackson indicated the procession “is not a march on the city of Peru but a march in the city of Peru” and is designed to give his family some sort of closure.
Mr. Day’s family has been frustrated by what it feels is a lack of communication and progress in the investigation conducted by a multi-jurisdictional task force that includes the Illinois State Police, the Bloomington and Peru police departments, LaSalle County sheriff’s and coroner’s offices and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.
State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, addressed a letter to Pyska asking that the Peru Police Department allow the Illinois State Police Division of Criminal Investigation to “immediately initiate and lead an investigation into the disappearance and subsequent death” of Mr. Day.
Mr. Day’s body was found Sept. 4 but was not identified until about three weeks later.
“The current investigation has included some unsettling discrepancies and inconsistencies, including with the analysis of surveillance video and the securing of the crime scene, among other issues,” Buckner wrote. “There have been multiple autopsies and an independent pathology report done, and the results have raised more questions about Jelani’s death.”
Buckner said the family is convinced foul play is involved, “and no entity that has handled this case thus far has been able to rule that out.”
He said he believes the case requires specialized resources and attention to properly move forward with the case. He said a State Police investigation will also provide the ability to use federal resources.
Pyska said last week that the FBI had been asked to take over the lead in the investigation of the death but declined.
Tuesday’s march appears to have drawn a great deal of interest. Several Illinois State University students and faculty have petitioned the university to cancel classes Tuesday to allow people to join the march.
Twelve representatives of student organizations and community activist groups and 30 ISU faculty members signed an email seeking the cancellation.
The march will begin at noon outside the Peru Police Department and head to the Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru, which is located about a mile and a half away, near a wooded area where Mr. Day’s car was found. A prayer service will also be held.
Authorities said so far they are not sure what caused Mr. Day’s death.
A toxicology report taken from Mr. Day’s liver found caffeine, THC derivatives and cotinine, which is a derivative of nicotine often found in tobacco. Those levels are in amounts showing typical use, according to the report, and aren’t toxicologically significant.