By Paul Tennant
---- — LAWRENCE — A middle-aged man drowned in the North Canal early Saturday morning, apparently after swimming several laps, police said.
The body of Jaime Antonio, 51, of Lawrence, was discovered in the canal near the Fenton Judicial Center at 4:20 p.m. yesterday by a resident of the Museum Square apartments who was taking a walk with his wife, according to police Chief John Romero.
The body matched the description of a man seen swimming in the canal that a security guard had given to police at 12:20 a.m. Saturday, Romero said.
Initial attempts to find the man were unsuccessful. Clarence Owens, a security guard at the Washington Apartments, told police he saw a man doing the back stroke in the nearby canal.
He appeared to be doing laps, Romero said. When the man went under the water and did not resurface, Owens called 911.
Two firefighters donned flotation suits and went into the water while other firefighters and police searched the area around the canal, according to Romero. The firefighters in the canal did not dive under the water but searched from the surface, according to fire Chief Jack Bergeron.
Asked if the canal, which was extremely polluted for many years, posed a danger to the firefighters who were swimming in it, Bergeron noted that like the nearby Merrimack River, the water in the canal is much cleaner than it used to be.
Patriot Ambulance went to the scene to provide emergency medical care in case the victim was found.
The Fire Department sent several pieces of apparatus and illuminated the area while firefighters and police officers looked for Antonio. The rescuers did not find anyone in the canal at that time or when they searched again several hours later that morning, Romero said.
Antonio was fully clothed, the chief said.
“We do not know what prompted him (Antonio) to be in the canal,” he said. Both Romero and Bergeron noted swimming is not permitted in the city’s canals at any time. The investigation is continuing and the state Medical Examiner’s Office will do an autopsy, Romero said.