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Demolition work near Starved Rock State Park may be connected to deaths of three men last week, family’s lawyer says

The attorney said there is no reason to believe the three men were handling or “knowingly using explosive devices.”

Brothers Inmer Rivera Tejada, 39, Rafael Rivera Tejada, 36, and their nephew Guillermo Rivera Tejada, 26, were killed May 6, 2021 near Starved Rock State Park.
Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, P.C.

A lawyer hired by the family of three men killed in an explosion near Starved Rock State Park raised questions Wednesday about their deaths, saying “there is no reason to believe” they were “knowingly using explosive devices.”

Attorney Tara R. Devine raised the possibility that the deaths of brothers Inmer Rivera Tejada, 39, and Rafael Rivera Tejada, 36, and their nephew Guillermo Rivera Tejada, 26, were connected to nearby demolition work for a bridge project.

The three men were found last Thursday about 100 yards west of the Route 178 bridge in Utica. Explosives were used in March to remove steel spans from the bridge, which has been replaced by a newer one across the Illinois River near Utica.

Footage shot by the Illinois Department of Transportation shows explosions going off along the entire bridge, sending the girders into the river. Neither the company nor IDOT were available for comment Tuesday about whether any further blasting work had been planned at the site.

Devine said she has reason to believe there were continued demolition work on the site, but did not provide specifics on what may have caused the men’s injuries. The legal team wants an investigation into what work took place and what clean-up followed, Devine said.

“We will be hiring some of the best experts in the country to assist us in our investigation and hopefully bring peace of mind to Inmer, Rafael and Guillermo’s family,” Devine said in a statement.

All three victims lived in and around the Little Village neighborhood, according to Devine. They frequently visited the state park together, often to fish. The men left behind seven children, Devine said.

“When something like this happens to three dads, it should be looked at really closely,” Devine told the Sun-Times. “We want answers ... We want to determine responsibility.”

LaSalle County Coroner Rich Ploch told the Sun-Times last week that the men may have been fishing that day along the Illinois River and ignited black powder while trying to light a fire to cook food.

Autopsy results will likely take a few weeks as Illinois State Police continue to investigate the explosion.

State police have not provided any update on the investigation.