2019 fatal boating accident on Rock River remembered by victim’s family and friends

Polo man’s body has not been recovered

Family and friends of Kent "Bud" Dearborn Jr., throw flowers into the Rock River on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023 in commemoration of Dearborn's boating accident in 2019 that claimed his life and a fishing companion below the Oregon dam. Dearborn's body has not been found.

OREGON – Four years ago, Kent “Bud” Dearborn Jr. and a buddy were fishing on the Rock River below the Oregon dam when tragedy struck.

It was Nov. 20, 2019, when “Bud,” 33, of Polo, and James Swift, 64, of Forreston, went missing after their boat capsized while they were fishing.

Swift’s body was found Jan. 3, 2020, 17 miles from Oregon, near the Dixon dam. Dearborn’s body has not been recovered despite dozens of river searches by civilians and law enforcement in 2020.

On Sunday, family and friends of Bud gathered again by the dam to remember the fatal boating accident that took their son, father and nephew.

“We’re never going to find him, but we still come here to remember him,” said Penny Lee of Oregon, Dearborn’s aunt. “We always hoped someone would find something, but ... so far, nothing.”

On a mild, sunny afternoon, Lee gathered the group together for a photo from the west bank overlooking the area where the boat was last seen. Some family members sat on a memorial bench dedicated in Bud’s memory.

Then family and friends shared a toast to Bud and walked to the edge of the Rock River, where they each tossed a flower into the water.

Each year, the family places flowers on the bench that overlooks the area where the boat sank.

The bench was purchased through donations the family received from fundraisers held after the accident. The Oregon Park District, owner of Oregon Park East, poured the base and set up the bench for the family in September 2022.

The plaque on the bench says: “In loving memory of ‘Bud’ Kent Asher Dearborn Jr., 1/6/1986-11/20/2019.″ It also includes images of two people fishing from a boat and a morel mushroom – two of Bud’s favorite things.

The date of the accident is burned into the brain of Candy Lindsey, Bud’s cousin, because It happened on her birthday.

“Still my worst birthday ever,” she said Sunday.

Lee said she often gets calls or text messages whenever a body is found in the river.

“People call to be helpful,” she said.

Bud’s mom, Florence Dearborn of Polo, walked along the river’s edge with one of her young grandchildren. She continues to pay Bud’s life insurance policy so his only son, Zander, 15, will have something when his dad is officially declared dead in 2026, seven years after the accident.

And some fishing friends of Bud still cast their lines below the dam, feeling that somehow he and Swift are fishing with them in spirit.

The two men were fishing for walleye when the accident occurred on a cold and windy day with river levels high because of recent rain. Some river watchers speculate that Bud’s body, laden with heavy clothing, became trapped in the “boil” at the base of the dam.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

Earleen creates content and oversees production of 8 community weeklies. She has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.