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Local News

Joliet construction worker airlifted after 12-foot fall from historic Morris aqueduct

Garbage and debris collected July 19, 2015, in a flooded pool near the damaged aqueduct that spans the Illinois and Michigan Canal at Gebhard Woods State Park in Morris.
Garbage and debris collected July 19, 2015, in a flooded pool near the damaged aqueduct that spans the Illinois and Michigan Canal at Gebhard Woods State Park in Morris.

MORRIS ­ A construction worker out of Joliet removing debris Thursday morning from the damaged historic aqueduct on the Illinois and Michigan Canal trail in Morris was seriously injured when he fell about 12 feet, officials said.

The Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District responded about 7:28 a.m. Thursday to the aqueduct, located between Gebhard Woods State Park and downtown Morris, Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes said.

Ruben Diaz, 49, of Joliet had fallen about 12 feet from the aqueduct onto concrete and rebar – steel reinforcing rods placed in concrete, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Sgt. Dave Wollgast said.

Diaz was part of a two-person demolition operation tasked with cleaning debris from the damaged aqueduct. When his co-worker cut through a slab of concrete on the aqueduct, it split and brought Diaz down with it.

"It's really unfortunate," Wollgast said.

Diaz was airlifted to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, and suffered a lower spinal cord injury and a collapsed lung, Wollgast said. The man was in serious condition at the time of his transport, Steffes said.

The aqueduct carrying the I&M Canal over Nettle Creek collapsed during the flooding of April 2013, and construction on the site recently began.

As of July 2015, a contract was in place with Gale Construction of Joliet to demolish and remove the aqueduct, but the project needed approval at the state level. Gale Construction Principal Laura Pager previously said the contract with the IDNR is for $225,000, but was on hold until a state budget was signed.

The construction company had not returned calls seeking comment about Diaz.

Since a budget passed, IDNR told state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, in late August that about $250,000 would be released to begin rebuilding the bridge.

The IDNR Conservation Police are investigating the incident. Morris police and the Grundy County Sheriff's Office also responded.

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