The current was strong when Patriots defensive end Marquise Hill and a friend took a Jet Ski onto Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans Sunday night.
A few minutes after the pair left the dock around 8:45 p.m., people on shore heard screams. Hill's Jet Ski had capsized, and the 6-foot-6-inch, 300-pound lineman and his friend were thrashing in the water.
Yesterday, after a search involving 30 agents from local police agencies and the Coast Guard, Hill's body was found at about 2 p.m., a quarter-mile from the spot where his Jet Ski capsized, according to Brian Clark of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Hill was dead at age 24.
Hill's friend, a woman whose name was not released, was found 150 yards away, clinging to a wooden piling at the base of a bridge. She was unhurt.
According to Clark, the two were not wearing life jackets, as required by state law. Boating in the dark is also against the law, he said.
"If he had been wearing a life jacket, this probably would have been prevented," Clark said. "No doubt. This is one case where we could have guaranteed that a life jacket would have saved his life."
A husband and wife who heard the cries of the two jumped into a boat and raced from the dock to search for them. The husband, an off-duty law enforcement officer, briefly spotted Hill in the water and dived in three or four times trying to rescue him.
But Hill, battling 2-foot swells, slipped underneath the surface.
"We are absolutely heartbroken to learn of Marquise's death," said Robert Kraft, Patriots chairman and chief executive officer. "Our immediate thoughts go to Marquise's mother, Sherry, and the rest of his family. He was only 24 years old and his death is hard to comprehend."
Albert Elias, Hill's agent, said Hill knew how to swim and tried to save his friend from drowning after their Jet Ski overturned.
"I spoke with the girl and her mother and they said he helped her stay calm," Elias said. "He ended up saving her life, keeping her calm until she could grab onto a buoy."
Clark said Hill tried to save his friend, but was panicking and pulled under by the current.
"I'm sure it was a heroic effort by him and by the person who was in the boat trying to assist," Clark said. "It's very hard to find somebody when it's rough seas and open water. You can be right on top of them and miss them by an inch."
Hill was a standout player at De La Salle High School in New Orleans, where, as a senior, he was rated the No. 1 defensive lineman by numerous publications. He went on to star at Louisiana State and was a member of the team that won the national championship in 2003.
The Patriots drafted him in the second round in 2004 (63d overall), and he played in 13 games as a backup over the last three seasons.
"He was a great guy, a great locker room guy, fun to be around," said former Patriot Dan Klecko, a defensive tackle who played for New England from 2003-05 and is now with the Colts. "He always had some jokes. He was just a good guy."
"Marquise was not only an outstanding player, a man of high character, and a hero in his life," said Elias, the agent, "but an amazing son to his mother Sherry, a dedicated father to his son Ma'Shy, and a loyal client and dear friend until his untimely and tragic end."
"Marquise was a very respectful young man who worked hard to improve and was always eager to contribute to the team, both on the field and in the community," said Kraft.
In the fall of 2005, Hill was one of several Patriots who built a ramp at the Mattapan home of Barbara Jones, 60, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a walker. The project was part of Hometown Huddle, an NFL charity.
Yesterday, Jones recalled Hill as sincere and personable.
"He had said he just liked helping people, and it was a pleasure to be able to participate in helping with the ramp," said Jones.