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Iron worker remembers fall from McNaughton Bridge 39 years ago

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PEKIN (WEEK) -- It has been 39 years since iron worker, Roger Williams, fell off the John T. McNaughton Bridge in Pekin. It happened on November 17th, 1981 when he fell off the steel structure and survived.

"I won the lottery to life that day," said Williams.

Williams found himself that day climbing a ladder almost 70 feet high. During construction, Williams noticed the hook bars weren't fastened properly.

"I said somethings not right up here," Williams continued, "That's when I and the ladder started going down."

As Williams fell he hit a landing about 20 feet below him before ending up in the river.

"They say I did like a perfect swan dive and went down head first," said Williams.

Williams then found himself submerged underwater and stuck at the bottom of the Illinois River.

"My lungs felt like they were on fire," Williams said, "All they would have needed was a shovel and a plastic bag to scoop me up in."

Williams co-worker, Don Schimmelpfennig helped pull him out of the water after he reached the surface.

"If he'd have fell on concrete or if he'd hit that barge, it'd probably been a completely different outcome for him," said Schimmelpfennig.

When Williams arrived to the hospital he said doctors were shocked.

"They x-rayed me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and they couldn't find one broken bone in my body," Williams said.

Years later Williams would find out from doctors that there was other damage to his body.

"I aged my musculoskeletal structure by about 15 years," Williams said.

This could have been prevented Williams said. If the brackets would have been there the ladder would not have cut loose on him. Williams later filed a lawsuit and won.

Now, Williams said he lives in chronic pain and has had to replace his hip.

"My back and hips will lock out on me, my neck will go out on me, I've been in and out of therapy numerous times," said Williams.

Williams said he's fortunate to still be alive and understands that this was just a part of the trade as an iron worker.

Paige Blanzy

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