New Information Reveals UNI Employee "Slipped on Loose Rocks" Causing Deadly Fall
By Jillian Petrus, Reporter
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Following the death of a beloved University of Northern Iowa administrator, colleagues continue to grieve the loss of their friend and coworker.
On Saturday, Drake Martin died after falling from a cliff along Backbone Trail also known as Devil’s Backbone. Martin served thirty years as UNI’s Assistant Director for Residence Education.
Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere said they received the emergency call to the park around 3:00 p.m. LeClere tells us Martin was with another person when he fell. The Sheriff said it’s his understanding Martin stepped close to a ledge and slipped on some loose rocks causing him to fall.
Backbone State Park is darkened by an already long list of accidents over the years. An extensive search of the KCRG/Gazette archives reveals a history of serious injuries at Backbone State Park over the past twenty years.
Last year, a 56 year-old woman was airlifted to the hospital after falling twelve feet. Two years before that, a 24 year-old man fell 60 feet and survived. Some of these falls are from very steep cliffs, 40 to 65 feet.
In 1996, a 3 year-old boy plunged 80 feet from a ridge. In all these cases, the victims survived, unlike Martin.
The most recent death happened 22 years ago. That's when 38 year-old Jeff West of Cedar Falls was using a rope to climb his way down a 50 foot cliff. He was killed when the rope gave way.
Following many of these incidents, park rangers said they had no plans to add guard rails or warning signs along some of the trails. One park ranger told The Gazette the added safety measures might take away from the “natural beauty” of the area.
In spite of the tragedy, colleagues made a brave effort to talk about Martin on Monday. They call their coworker a funny, courageous and creative man.
"We're getting emails from students he worked with 25 years ago who still feel the impact of his influence in their lives,” said long-time friend and colleague, Pat Beck.
Over three decades of service at UNI, Martin's co-workers recall his incredible passion for making students feel welcome at the university.
"He was very engaging in front of a crowd one-on-one his interaction was just magical and transforming,” Beck said.
In a recent article written by Martin, we see his love for community, student growth and achievement. He’s quoted in RA Alumni Magazine saying, “Working with over 1200 eager, talented R-As and at least 100 engaged, committed graduate and full-time coordinators has been the greatest privilege of my professional life."
UNI Vice President for Student Affairs, Terry Hogan, says the article only cements Martin’s unwavering love for his work.
"He had an enthusiasm and passion for that work from the day he started until the day he left us," Hogan said.
As devoted as Martin was to his work-- colleagues say he cared more for his family.
"It was his greatest joy to have these two daughters who were interested and interesting," said Beck.
Those who knew Martin say his death is not the end of his legacy at UNI. One that will live on in the students he impacted and friendships built along the way.
"Though he's been inspiring while he worked here he will be and continue to be inspiring even in his passing,” Hogan said, “because that's the kind of person he was."
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