Lawsuit seeks more than $1 million for local woman’s drowning at the Wilmington Dam

Liz Larson
Liz Larson of Normal drowned last July when her inflatable raft went over the Wilmington Dam on the Kankakee River. Larson is the 22nd person to die at what her family’s lawyer says is one of Illinois’ most dangerous recreation areas. The Larsons are suing the City of Wilmington for negligence.
(Photo courtesy of Remembering Liz Larson Facebook page.)

By Howard Packowitz

BLOOMINGTON – A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the family of a Twin-Cities woman who drowned last summer when her inflatable raft went over the Wilmington Dam on the Kankakee River.

Attorney Katherine Cardenas says Liz Larson, 36, of Normal was the 22nd person to have been killed at the dam since 1982. Cardenas says 23 other people had to be rescued from what she called one of deadliest recreational areas in the state.

The lawsuit, filed in Will County, seeks more than $1 million in damages from Wilmington’s city government, which owns the dam. Owners of a nearby motel, cottage, and canoe rental business are also named as defendants.

Larson was pulled underwater by the dam’s vortex, but not before she saved the life of her friend’s six-year old daughter who was with Larson on the raft.

Cardenas said state officials declared the dam a public hazard more than a decade ago.

“They recommended either the removal of the dam, a modification of the dam, or for large boulders to be placed at the bottom of the dam that would take away the deadly vortex that currently exists. That was in 2007. As of 2018, the city of Wilmington has refused to make any modifications,” Cardenas said.

The city claims there are enough warning signs near the dam.

“The city of Wilmington needs to take the responsibility of human life over recreation areas,” said Cardenas.

“They need to stop blaming the victims. They continue to say,’Oh, we have a sign placed, we have a sign placed.’ Clearly, the signage is not working if 45 different people either died or needed to be rescued,” Cardenas also said.

If repairs aren’t made, Cardenas wants the city to close the public park adjacent to the dam, or prohibit canoe and kayak rentals there.

Howard Packowitz can be reached at howard.packowitz@cumulus.com

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