BLOOMINGTON — A wrongful death lawsuit seeks more than $1 million on behalf of the family of a Normal woman who drowned last summer when her inflatable raft went over the Wilmington Dam on the Kankakee River.
Liz Larson, 36, was rafting with friends on July 29 when she and a friend's 6-year-old daughter went overboard. Larson saved the child's life, but was unable to save herself.
The City of Wilmington, which owns the dam that the lawsuit contends has been inoperable in generating power for at least 10 years, was named as one of several defendants.
"As a property owner, the city of Wilmington has a duty to keep the property in a reasonable safe condition, and we feel the property is in an extremely dangerous condition," said Chicago-area attorney Katherine Cardenas.
"There are (warning) signs, but we're saying the signs are clearly ineffective and inadequate by the mere fact of 45 people getting caught in the dam," said Cardenas.
Larson was among 22 people who have been killed since the dam was built in 1982, said the attorney, adding the other 23 were rescued in time.
"What is being created at this dam is basically what is called a boil or a vortex, and it is a very strong and powerful circular current that once a person gets caught in that current it is almost impossible to survive without rescue," said Cardenas.
Since 2007, state officials have been trying "to rectify the danger at the dam, and the city of Wilmington refuses to make any changes to the dam," said Cardenas. State officials have asked the city to gift the dam to them so they can make the property safer, she added.
Wilmington Mayor Roy Strong could not be reached Friday, but his executive secretary said the city had no comment.
The lawsuit was filed Feb. 9 in Will County Circuit Court in Joliet on behalf of David Larson, as administrator of his daughter's estate. Also named as defendants are the owners of a canoe rental business, motel and cottage located near the dam. The lawsuit alleges the motel and cottage encouraged its guests to rent kayaks, canoes and/or rafts knowing the alleged danger the dam presented.
"In a prayer for relief we have asked for in excess of $1 million for the needless death of a 36-year-old woman," said Cardenas.
The case is set for an initial status hearing May 30.