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Wilmington Dam's Danger Focus Of Lawsuit Against City

Wilmington Parks Facebook Page
The Wilmington dam on the Kankakee River.

The dam where former GLT staff member Liz Larson drowned Saturday is the focus of litigation against the city of Wilmington over previous deaths at the popular recreation spot.

Larson, 36, of Normal, was in an inflatable watercraft with a 6-year-old child around 4:30 p.m. when it went over the Kankakee River dam in Wilmington, authorities said. The child survived, said Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Ed Cross.

Liz Larson
Credit WGLT
Former GLT staff member Liz Larson.

Larson’s death is the 42nd at the Wilmington dam, said Katherine Cardenas, a Chicago attorney who represents a family that lost two Joliet children in the dam on Memorial Day 2016.

In that incident, 12-year-old Eder Arroyo got into trouble in the water and his sister, Abigail, 13, tried to save him, Cardenas said. They both drowned. Their family sued the city—seeking more than $1 million in damages—over known danger at the dam and its alleged failure to prevent the children’s deaths. That case is due back in court in late August.

“The danger is not visibly apparent with this dam, because there’s an underwater vortex,” Cardenas said.

Their lawsuit cites a 2007 state report recommending ways to mitigate risk at the dam, including the placement of larger underwater boulders to disrupt the vortex. Those recommendations have been ignored, Cardenas said.

“I was just shocked and sickened (to hear about Larson’s death),” Cardenas told GLT on Monday. “I’m sickened over the fact that these deaths are going to continue to occur because the City of Wilmington chooses to do nothing about it, yet year after year people continue to die.”

Frank Koehler, Wilmington’s interim city administrator, declined comment Monday on the dam’s danger to the public, pending the outcome of the state’s investigation. He said there are seven or eight signs near the dam urging visitors to be cautious.

“We have a lot of signage in that area,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what the investigation turns up.”

Those who may have information or witnessed Saturday’s accident are asked to contact Illinois Department of Natural Resources conservation officers for Will County Nicholas Reid at (815) 531-9427 or Nicholas Honiotes at (815) 409-5082.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.