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CROWN POINT — The father of two children who drowned Tuesday afternoon in the Kankakee River may have been under the influence of narcotics while on court-ordered probation.

In May, Eric J. Patillo, 34, of Thayer, pleaded guilty to felony heroin possession in Newton County, according to Newton County Superior Court records.

Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez told reporters at a Tuesday morning press conference witnesses believe Patillo appeared to be going in an out of consciousness and was possibly on drugs about the time his 2- and 4-year-old sons drowned.

On May 30, a Newton Superior Court judge sentenced Patillo to 18 months in jail for felony possession of heroin, but suspended the sentence in favor of probation, records show.

As part of probation, Patillo was required to complete addiction and behavior counseling.*

Thomas J. Mullins, Patillo's attorney in his heroin possession case, was unavailable for comment. 

Lake County police investigators are preparing felony neglect charges against Patillo who county police arrested late Tuesday after questioning him and testing him for narcotics and alcohol. 

Police did not specify what type of drugs Patillo may have taken. Drug and alcohol test results were pending, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said.

Investigators want to question 31-year-old Jesse B. Lintner, who witnesses said was with the Patillo family before the boys were pulled from the water. The sheriff said police want to question him as a witness about what happened.

Patillo's sons, Evan Patillo, 2, and Levi Patillo, 4, both of Thayer, were pulled from the river Tuesday at the LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area, near the Newton County and Lake County line.

Levi was taken to Franciscan Health Crown Point, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Lake County coroner's office.

Evan was taken to Riverside Healthcare hospital in Kankakee, Illinois, where he was pronounced dead, police said. 

The boys' cause of death was pending autopsy results, Martinez said.

Boys remembered as caring, joyful

Their aunt, Kaitlyn Patillo, of Thayer, described the two boys as "thick as thieves;" always there for each other through thick and thin. 

"Evan is adventurous and loving," Kaitlyn Patillo said. "Levi is so sweet and loving. They love 'Paw Patrol' and dinosaurs, they loved spending time with Papa outside, or inside watching movies. They are our joy, our babies. Smart, kind, loving, cuddly, caring, always had each other's back."

Fishermen called 911

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The Indiana DNR Law Enforcement District 10 reported that two fishermen contacted 911 at 4:35 p.m. Tuesday to alert authorities regarding their concern of the two young children's safety. They reported that two men were also in the area.

While officers were enroute, police received a second call, about 15 minutes after the first, that the two boys had been pulled from the river and were unresponsive.

One of the fishermen found one child floating in the water, and the second was found under the water near a boat ramp, according to the DNR report.

The sheriff said at Wednesday's press conference, "There were two fishermen there on land who noticed Mr. Patillo and the two boys and that Mr. Patillo going in and out of consciousness and thought he was under the influence of something.

"A few minutes later, they saw Mr. Patillo jumping in the water. The witnesses became concerned about where the kids were at and started looking for the kids and found them in the water, one floating on top and one beneath the water and unresponsive," the sheriff said.

He added witnesses said the children were last seen in waist deep water and not far from the shore.

The family was near a boat launch in the wildlife area, but they did not have a boat.

Newton County sheriff's police and Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police arrived first since the first 911 call was directed to them. The sheriff said DNR officers asked Lake County police for assistance.

The sheriff said the father was not taken to a hospital for medical treatment, but officers did meet the father at one of the hospitals and brought him in for questioning.

The sheriff was asked if he knew why the father didn't provide more protection for his children. The sheriff responded, "I cannot comment on what was in his head or on what he should or shouldn't have done. That is for the courts to decide.

"It is a tragedy. It hits us hard when we first got the information. Our preliminary investigation is showing enough probable cause to charge him with neglect of a dependent causing death at this time. Ultimately it will be up to the prosecutors to review the affidavits and accept the case," the sheriff said.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said if Patillo is charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death, it is a Level 1 felony punishable by 20 to 40 years in prison.

Lintner, the man police want to question, was last known to live in the 4500 block of East County Road 1029 North in DeMotte. He was described as white, 5 foot 7 and 140 pounds.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Detective Sgt. Jeremy Kalvaitis at 219-755-3355.

Times staff writers Sarah Reese, Bill Dolan and Anna Ortiz contributed to this report. 

* Editors note: This story has been updated to correct inaccuracies about what was required of Eric Patillo as part of his probation in Newton County. The Times regrets the error.

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Times staff writer Bill Dolan contributed to this report.

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