A Scenic River tours rafting trip on the Taylor River as captured on video in 2015.
A Scenic River tours rafting trip on the Taylor River as captured on video in 2015.

Russ Zieglowsky, Former Councilman, Adds to 2017 Colorado Rafting Death Toll

Russ Zieglowsky, a 52-year-old former city councilman from Washington, Iowa, has added to the disturbingly high death toll at Colorado water attractions this season. Counting his death during a commercial rafting trek along the Taylor River in Gunnison County, at least nine people have lost their lives on a Colorado lake or river since late April.

Zieglowsky actually died on June 21, but the fatal accident was missed by most publications. Among those that covered it were the Gunnison Times, very near where the death took place, and KCII radio in Zieglowsky's home town. However, it even escaped the notice of AmericanWhitewater.org, among the best sources we've found for information about deaths and injuries while rafting.

As we've reported, the first water attraction fatality of the season in Colorado involved a man who lost his life during a commercial rafting expedition on the Arkansas River circa April 30. On June 3, Bryan Reim was swept away at the Potholes, a popular Western Colorado recreation site, and two days later, on June 5, 32-year-old Elyssa McCreight died during a rafting trip on an Eagle County portion of the upper Colorado River known as Boneyard Rapids.

Next came a June 28 post headlined "The River in Colorado Where Two People Have Drowned in Nine Days," which initially dealt with two fatalities on the Poudre. The first victim was Maximillian Lopez, an eighteen-year-old from Washington state, who died while tubing on June 18, while the second incident involved William McHarg, a 64-year-old from Severance, who lost his life after the commercial raft in which he was traveling flipped on June 27.

We later updated the item to include information about a second death on the 27th, this one involving Lafayette's Mark Wher, also 64, who died after falling into Arkansas River rapids known as Widow Maker.

This Facebook photo of former Washington, Iowa, city councilman Russ Zieglowsky was posted on June 16, five days prior to his death.
This Facebook photo of former Washington, Iowa, city councilman Russ Zieglowsky was posted on June 16, five days prior to his death.
Facebook

Shortly thereafter, we learned about a third water-related casualty on the 27th, this one taking place at Eggleston Lake on the Grand Mesa, a gorgeous area along Colorado's Western Slope. Larry Smith Jr., 44, was paddle-boarding with a woman when he fell into the lake's frigid waters. And Cord Carpenter drowned at Jackson Lake, in Morgan County, after being reported missing on July 1.

As for Zieglowsky, who served on the Washington, Iowa, city council from 2008 to 2016, he fell overboard on what has been described as a fairly easy stretch of the Taylor River, but he didn't respond to CPR. The official cause of death was drowning.

According to Zieglowsky's online obituary, he had a large family:

He is survived by his wife, Wendy Zieglowsky of Washington, IA; daughter, Brittany Zieglowsky and fiance Levi Dubberke and their daughter Olivia of Marshalltown, IA; daughter, Nathaleen Zieglowsky of Cedar Rapids, IA; daughter, Katelyn Zieglowsky of Tempe, AZ; son, Andrew Venenga of Washington, IA; and daughter, Anna Venenga of Washington, IA; parents, Laverne and Margaret Zieglowsky of Washington, IA; sister, Stephanie Bare and husband John and their children Alex and Shelby of Newton, IA; brother, Tadd Zieglowsky and his children, Ethan, Caleb and Mitchell of Washington, IA; father and mother-in-law, Frank and Becky Woldan of Dysart, IA; sister-in-law, Nicole Cummings and husband Luke and their children Catherine and Charlotte of Rochester, MN.

One Facebook friend spoke for many in the following post: "Today my heart is heavy as I think of one of my good friends who lost her son — I so wish I could comfort her & her family in some way. Russ was my side-by-side at the Kiwanis dinners. He & I worked up front doing sauce & boiling extra noodles, I didn't really know him prior to that; he was younger than myself in high school. BUT I do know he was loved by many & he went all out to make that dinner run smoothly — it always made me smile because he had to "secretly" doctored the sauce.... Yes we bantered  agreed to disagree. But he always won (well he thought so, LOL). Hoping & praying the fond & fun memories will bring comfort to the Zieglowsky family today & in the trying days to come."

He was laid to rest on June 30.

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