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Families of 3 men killed in Starved Rock explosion file lawsuit

Families of 3 men killed in Starved Rock explosion file lawsuit

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The families of three men who were killed in an explosion near Starved Rock State Park in May filed suit Wednesday afternoon against several construction and blasting companies that, the complaint alleges, left behind an undetonated explosive rod that the men accidentally ignited.

Illinois law firm Salvi, Schostok and Pritchard filed three wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of the families in Cook County Circuit Court against construction companies that were hired by the Illinois Department of Transportation to demolish an old bridge near the park on March 18.

On May 6, brothers Immer Rivera Tejada, 39, Rafael Rivera Tejada, 36, and their nephew Guillermo Rivera Tejada, 26, went to the park to fish along the Illinois River, according to the complaint, which attorney Patrick Salvi said was made after Illinois State Police and the FBI investigated the explosion. They were about 100 yards away from where the bridge demolition took place, which is about 75 miles southwest of Chicago.

The men, all of Little Village, made a campfire to cook the fish they had caught on the south bank of the river, the complaint said. When making the campfire, they used what appeared to be a foot-long copper pipe that they found to prop up their cast iron pan.

One of the men made a video call about 7 p.m. to show off his catch before placing the fish over the fire, and in that video, the rod is shown, the complaint said. Unknown to the men, the rod was an explosive that did not detonate in the bridge demolishment, the complaint said.

Salvi said he believes that the rod ended up near the men after drifting in the river.

About 7:15 p.m., the complaint alleges, heat from the campfire caused the rod to explode, killing the three men. The complaint said that clothing from at least one of the victims and soil from the site contained evidence of an explosive compound that was used by the construction and blasting companies.

“We always knew that Immer, Rafael, and Guillermo were innocent victims, and we knew the investigation would reveal that — which it did,” according to a written statement made by Maluc Cordoba-Arce, wife of Immer. “These men were our brothers, fathers, and husbands. These men were three pillars of our family. Our children will now grow up without their dads, without their love or support. We live in Chicago, 3 different houses, on the same block, all together. We are a very close family, and words cannot fully describe the depths of the pain that we feel to lose so many family members, all at once.”

Eleven days after the bridge detonation, another explosive device that did not originally detonate was found by the blasting companies, but the companies did not report the finding, the complaint said.

The complaint claims that the companies did not perform an adequate post-blast inspection, which is why the explosive device was able to be found by unknowing people.

Initially, officials said little about the explosion beyond that it was an “isolated” occurrence and that the men ignited a black powder substance that exploded, causing their deaths.

“The family knew that there’s no way. They’re good men. They don’t screw around. They’re law-abiding,” Salvi said. “So they knew that was not true, and it was kind of upsetting that they jumped to that conclusion without any proof whatsoever.”

The three men left a wife and two significant others and seven minor children ages 3 to 15, according to the law firm.

Cordoba-Arce said their families are now “united by an immense and unnecessary loss.”

“There are still days when I wake up and for a moment, I forget that my husband has died. Every day, all of the children are reminded that their fathers are never coming home,” she said. “I am here to pursue the justice and accountability that our family deserves, and most importantly, to prevent another family from going through what my family is going through each and every day.”

A person who answered the phone for D Construction, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, Thursday afternoon said the company does not have a comment on the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for Orica, another company named in the lawsuit, wrote in an email that the company “would not be able to comment on any pending or ongoing legal proceedings.”

Gillan Construction, a third company named in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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