Jelani Day’s cause of death is drowning, coroner says

Investigation continues into how ISU grad student died, authorities say

Jelani J. Day, 25, of Bloomington, was a graduate student at Illinois State University.

The La Salle County Coroner’s Office said Monday the cause of Jelani Day’s death is drowning, after the release of the forensic autopsy report.

Coroner Richard Ploch said there is no specific test at autopsy for drowning and that it is determined based on a supporting investigation when a person is found dead in a body of water.

Day, who was 25 and an Illinois State University graduate student, was identified as the body found dead Sept. 4 in the Illinois River near the Route 251 bridge in Peru. Day, who was reported missing Aug. 25, was identified through forensic dental identification and DNA testing and comparison.

“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 weather, there was no evidence of any antemortem injury, such as manual strangulation, an assault or altercation, sharp, blunt, gunshot injury, infection, tumor, natural disease, congenital abnormality, or significant drug intoxication,” Ploch said in a Monday news release.

The Illinois River swells up to the top of its banks along Water Street in Peru on Monday June 28, 2021. The Peru fireworks are still scheduled to be launched on the south shore of the river on Saturday July 3, at dusk.

Toxicology results were tendered Oct. 13 to the La Salle County Coroner’s Office, and showed nicotine, caffeine and THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. None would have induced death.

Ploch said the manner in which Day went into the Illinois River is unknown.

Peru Police Chief Bob Pyszka said the multi-jurisdictional unit, consisting of the Peru Police Department, La Salle Police Department, Bloomington Police Department, La Salle County Sheriff’s Office and Illinois State Police are working together to solve this case.

“We are continuing to investigate how this occurred to Mr. Day,” Pyszka said.

Day’s vehicle was found Aug. 26 concealed in a wooded area near the Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru. Other items such as his wallet and an ISU lanyard also have been reported found in the La Salle-Peru area.

The public is asked to assist investigators with any tips by calling 815-433-2161.

The announcement comes before a march scheduled in Peru to bring awareness to the case. The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a Civil Rights advocacy group led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, has scheduled an event at noon Tuesday, Oct. 26. Day’s family has been critical of the investigation, and they have hired their own private investigator and had an independent autopsy conducted.