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'He was a Chicago kid': Friends and family members remember Navy sailor who fell to his death

Isaiah Daniel Frias, left, is shown posing with a family member in this undated social media photo. The Navy reservist fell to his death from the third floor of a parking garage on July 3, 2019, according to Chicago police.

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By ALEJANDRO SERRANO | The Chicago Tribune | Published: July 22, 2019

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Isaiah Daniel Frias loved his country. But he loved Chicago more.

Frias, a 31-year-old who grew up in Hillside, returned to Chicago a few weeks ago to receive a promotion to lieutenant commander in the Navy, where he was a reservist, his father said. At his request, he expected to be deployed to the Middle East in the next year.

“I want to continue to serve my country,” Frias told his father Ruben.

Before being deployed, Isaiah Frias wanted to return home, even if just for a short while. He hoped to settle into the condo he had recently bought in the Loop near Millennium Park, which he had been renting out while he worked in New York. He looked forward to taking runs along Lake Shore Drive.

But early on July 3 Frias fell to death from the third floor of a South Loop roof parking garage, according to Chicago police. A police investigation and an autopsy by the Cook County medical examiner’s office have provided few answers to his family and friends who don’t know if the fall was an accident or worse.

There was only one apparent witness to Frias’ fall and he did not see much.

Matthew Long was delivering lumber to a Home Depot on Clinton Street in the South Loop in the early hours of July 3. While backing up his truck on Jefferson Street, near the back of the store, he saw in one of his mirrors a body fall to the ground.

Long got out of his truck and rushed to the man. He saw blood starting to pool, and the man on the ground taking short breaths. He asked the man questions but didn’t hear any reply. Long called police and told a dispatcher what he had seen.

“All I saw was him falling and that was it,” Long said in an interview.

Long didn’t see any other people or cars in the area. He didn’t hear any tires screech. He didn’t hear any loud arguments. He couldn’t see, from his mirror, where exactly Frias fell from.

By the time paramedics arrived, he was dead.

The medical examiner’s office has yet to determine the manner and cause of Frias’ death and authorities have not released any updates of their investigation. The death has puzzled Frias’ friends and family while spreading grief to everyone who knew him.

“I know he is my son and will love him forever,” Ruben Frias said.

Isaiah Frias was an outgoing man with a smile that could illuminate any room and a selfless personality full of energy and determination, according to interviews with several people who knew him.

Early on in his life, Frias spoke of joining the military. The Sept. 11 attacks in New York City convinced him he had to serve in some capacity. "He just felt the calling, I believe,” Ruben Frias said.

By the time Frias graduated from Hillside’s Proviso West High School in 2006, he had excelled as a student athlete, earned honors for his mathematical abilities and had many friends, his father said. A number of universities offered him admission, but the calling persisted: He enrolled into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

When Ruben dropped him off at the Naval Academy, his new peers and colleagues instantly became his second family — his “brothers and sisters,” as he started to call them.

"We hit it off right away,” remembered Carlos Carballo, who was a year older than Frias and mentored him.

The two would spend their free time working out, dancing and talking about their future. “He loved his family. He loved his friends,” Carballo said. “He loved living life."

Over winter breaks, Frias tried to spend at least one day with military recruiters at a high school, telling students about opportunities in the Navy and encouraging them to study and focus. He believed in the power of education, those who knew him said.

He graduated from the Naval Academy with a math degree in spring 2010. “I was so proud,” Ruben Frias said. “I was just glad for him, everything that he achieved. He continuously kept on going and kept on going. He would never stop.”

And he did not stop then.

Frias received numerous awards in the near decade he served, according to the Navy. Among them: Achievement, commendation and service medals, and numerous ribbons.

After graduating, he briefly lived in San Diego with other sailors. “We hung out every single weekend,” one of them, Jesse Iwuji, said in a telephone interview.

On the weekends, when the roommates were not busy, they would go to beaches during the day and out in the downtown area at night, Iwuji said. Sundays were exclusively for football. Frias awed his friends when he found a bar for Chicago Bears fans in San Diego to root for his beloved team.

“We had to watch football and not that, we had to watch the Bears,” said Carballo, who also lived in California then, laughing at the memory.

The friends eventually parted but Frias stayed true to his character, taking his infectious positivity anywhere he went, whether it was on a skiing trip to Canada or wherever he worked.

Melody Hwang, who worked with Frias at the Naval Academy’s office of admissions a few years ago, recalled how Frias found ways to recruit at schools the Navy had previously struggled with in the Chicago area. His approachable personality and knowledge of the Navy made him perfect for the job, she said.

“He was phenomenal,” she said.

To Frias, whose catchphrase was “don’t worry about it,” there was no problem too large.

Like on his last day as a Naval Academy recruiter, Hwang said, when he had the wrong uniform with him so he borrowed a colleague’s and “totally owned” the oversized uniform, driving his coworkers into bouts of laughter.

“That was his way of handling life in general — making everyone laugh and finding a solution,” she said.

Frias’ love for Chicago did not diminish as he moved from city to city. He loved everything about Chicago — except the Cubs, Ruben said with a chuckle.

“He was a Chicago kid,” he said.

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©2019 the Chicago Tribune
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