Illinois man drowns after wheelchair tips over into pond

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SWANSEA, IL (KTVI) A well known Belleville photographer has died after his wheelchair tipped over into a pond. It happened in Swansea, Illinois’ Centennial Park on Sunday.

Gerry Frierdich, known as “Chief” to many in the area, was no stranger to bad luck. Seven years ago he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle on Green Mount Rd. He was paralyzed below the chest.

But that accident didn’t stop his love of photography. Friends recently helped him raise money for a new motorized wheelchair that allowed him to get more places. One of those spots was the far side of the pond in Centennial Park.

“This is what he lived for,” close friend Bud Gore said. “If he couldn’t go back here and couldn’t go these places, he felt trapped.”

He had recently released a calendar of photographs, many taken in the park. Friends suspect he was trying to go a little bit farther, looking for the perfect shot, when he went too far down a bumpy, root filled path along the pond. Police says the uneven ground almost certainly caused the wheelchair to flip. Frierdich was buckled into the chair and plunged into the water with it.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for friends here.

Buddy Gore, 15, described him as “a second father.”

“I don’t think anybody could match his standards. After everything that happened to him he still is the happiest guy I ever met.”

His dad, Bud, agrees.

“He was my best friend” Gore said, choking back a tear. “I just lost him. One of a kind. One of a kind guy.”

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