Family of fatal-accident victim thanks bystander

March 5, 2010 4:39:24 AM PST
The family of a utility worker who was killed in an industrial accident Wednesday thanked a bystander who stepped in to help.

It comes as the family members mourn their loss.

"With heavy hearts and tons of happy memories, we can't even put into words the depth of our loss," said Ron Gryga, victim's brother.

Ron Gryga praised his late brother, Michael Gryga, 39, in a statement Thursday.

The tragedy happened as Michael and another Peoples Gas employee were testing equipment downtown below street level. A pressurized pipe suddenly smashed into them, leaving Gryga barely alive.

Kevin Spillers, who works at the Board of Trade, was walking nearby.

"I turned around and saw a huge cloud of dust coming out of the hole, and somebody's hard hat flying out of the hole as well, so I knew something was wrong," said Spillers.

Spillers jumped into the hole, and cleared sand from Gryga's face and mouth so he could breathe.

"We just sat with him and had our hands on him, and were just telling him to keep on breathing, the help was coming," said Spiller. "He was just taking nice, deep breaths, and I actually thought he was going to be fine."

But Gryga, a husband and father who coached girls softball and was known for his friendliness and sense of humor, died from multiple injuries.

"Knowing Mike like we do, it is only fitting that Kevin would jump into the hole in an attempt to save him because Michael would have done the exact same thing," said Ron Gryga.

"The real heroes are the guys who get in that hole every day and keep the city going in holes all over town," said Spiller.

Thursday night Michael Gryga's relatives gathered to mourn him, and look at family pictures from happier times. They stressed how grateful they are to spillers, and Gryga's co-workers, for what they call selfless acts of bravery.

"It is a comfort to us to know that not only did Michael not suffer, but there were others there with him at his time of death," said Ron Gryga.

Peoples Gas, the Illinois Commerce Commission, and a federal agency are all investigating the accident.