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Lockport man seriously injured in fall at Starved Rock

July 18, 2012 at 05:03 PM

The State Journal-Register

A 21-year-old Lockport man fell 40 feet into French Canyon at Starved Rock State Park Sunday and had to be airlifted to a Peoria hospital.

Starved Rock, located along the Illinois River, is known for its spectacular sandstone canyons.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police officers searched the area after receiving a call at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday that intoxicated minors were drinking around French Canyon.

Sgt. Robert Frazier said that during a search of the area, Gerard J. Ziomek, 20, of Lockport was found very intoxicated and walking the trails.

“He told us he had fallen in the canyon,” Frazier said. “We called the Utica Fire Department to evaluate him, and as we were walking him out we got a call from the Illinois State Police that someone had fallen in French Canyon.

“We said, ‘We’ve got him and we’re bringing him out,’ and then the wife of an off-duty emergency medical technician came up to us to let us know her husband was treating another man in the back of the canyon.”

Frazier said Andrew J. Dusek, 21, was found seriously injured and lying in a pool at the bottom of the canyon.

“We got a helicopter started,” Frazier said.

Ziomek also had fallen, but slid 30 feet down a slope and was not badly injured.

Ziomek, Tracy Wagner, 20, and Vincent Piazza, 20, were taken to the LaSalle County Jail and charged with under-aged drinking and being off trail in restricted areas.

Ziomek and Piazza were found to have blood alcohol levels well above the legal limit.

Wagner refused a blood-alcohol test.

Another member of the party, John Strickland, 21, was charged with illegal consumption of alcohol and entry into a restricted area.

Frazier said those injured had to climb over a fence erected to keep people on trails and away from steep canyon slopes.

He said the sandstone in the canyons is slippery when wet or humid.

“Starved Rock is a beautiful place, but it can be very dangerous,” Frazier said. “It can be perfectly safe if people stay on the trails and observe the signs.

“We can’t regulate common sense.”

Local courts have backed up enforcement of safety violations at Starved Rock with stiff penalties, Frazier said.

“They are as tired of seeing (reports of accidents) in the paper as we are,” he said.

The investigation is continuing, and additional charges are pending.

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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