Father identifies missing kayaker as Kevin Conley of Sound Beach
The 40-year-old kayaker presumed drowned in Lake Ronkonkoma had an incurable brain disease, but that didn't keep him from enjoying the outdoors, his father said Saturday.
Most days, Kevin Conley would ride his bicycle about 15 miles to the lake to do some fishing, a black crate fastened to the handlebars loaded with gear, said Harold Conley, 75, who lived with his son in Sound Beach.
The distraught father said his son had been diagnosed with Huntington's disease, a degenerative brain disorder.
"I hope they get him and bring him up," he said.
Conley said he waited on his front porch until about 10 p.m. on Thursday for his son to return from the lake.
A short time later, Suffolk County police came to his home and told him his son was missing and may have drowned.
Witnesses called 911 about someone in distress shortly before 3:30 p.m. Thursday after seeing a kayak overturn on the lake. Would-be rescuers said the kayaker's life vest slipped off and he went under, police said.
The report triggered a major search, which included divers from at least seven fire and police departments. Suffolk police divers recovered the kayak Friday.
The search resumed Saturday, but no body was recovered. A police boat cruised the lake while officers walked the shoreline, sifting through debris.
Vinnie Simsek, 42, of Ronkonkoma, was at the Brookhaven beach on the lake with a pair of binoculars all day, hoping to help authorities spot the body.
Simsek was also at the beach Thursday when Conley fell in, and while he couldn't have reached the man in time, he feels an obligation to help the family in some way.
"Something is keeping me here," he said Saturday afternoon.
Harold Conley said police told him they found his son's knapsack, which held his fishing license.
He said his son usually fished from the shore, but he met someone recently who let him borrow a kayak. He said his son, who couldn't swim well, bought a life jacket so he could go out on the water safely.
Harold Conley said his son loved to fish and also used to hunt, but had to give that up because of his medical condition.
Kevin Conley, the youngest of four boys, attended Miller Place High School and worked in a Rocky Point lumber yard and as a carpenter before going on disability, the father said.
The Huntington's Disease Society of America defines the brain disorder as hereditary and incurable, affecting an individual's ability to walk, talk and reason.
Conley's mother died from the disease, and his brother is in a nursing home suffering from the disorder, Harold Conley said.
With Robert Brodsky
and Candice Ruud