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Questions Swirl Around The Death Of Mackinac Sailor

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Questions still surround the death of a long-time sailor who fell overboard during the Race to Mackinac.

2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker has been following this story for months and found something troubling about a key piece of evidence. She has the story from Monroe Harbor.

That key piece of evidence has been destroyed. It was the inflatable life vest the sailor was wearing. Early reports said it may have malfunctioned. No one will ever know because the vest was cremated along with the sailor's body.

When Jon Santarelli fell off his boat during the Mackinac races on July 21st, the inflatable life vest he was wearing did not inflate.

Fellow sailors like Mike Weisman had questions.

"I don't know why it didn't inflate," said Weisman.

That question may go unanswered forever. According to a source at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, when Santarelli was found July 28 "there was a flotation device and jacket on the deceased when he came to the office."

But "no one, family or otherwise wanted the device. So it was sent to the Proko Funeral Home in Kenosha, Wisconsin where the body was cremated."

Which means the body and all accompanying clothing and related materials were cremated.

"I find that astounding," said Dwight Ritter, a California attorney who specializes in maritime accidents. "This is a national concern. Why did that jacket not operate? We don't know the brand. We don't know the make. It's a serious question that will go unanswered because the jacket has been cremated and destroyed."

The day Santarelli's body was found, the Chicago Yacht Club released a statement that said "a full investigation can take place, including an analysis of the PFD, (personal flotation device)."

If the Chicago Yacht Club did conduct an investigation, they're not saying. In fact, no one on Friday was willing to answer questions.

"Do I have the same life jacket? Is it going to not inflate because of something we don't know about," asked Weisman. "It's an injustice to everybody to not know why that jacket didn't inflate."

CBS 2 asked the U.S. Coast Guard why it did not investigate. A spokesperson said the agency only investigates commercial vessels like tour boats. A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department said it did not investigate because there was no crime committed. It was simply a tragic accident.

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