SWANSEA, Ill. - A well-known metro east photographer drowned in a local park over the weekend after his wheelchair buckled and he tumbled into a pond at Centennial Park in Swansea.
Seven years ago, Gerry Frierdich survived a bicycle accident after he was hit by a car, losing the ability to use his arms and legs. Friends say that didn't change his attitude and passion for life.
"He died doing what he loved, if he wouldn't have been on that trail today he would've been on there tomorrow," says lifelong friend Bud Gore.
Frierdich was a photographer and athlete, known as "Chief" to those who knew him best.
"He's gone, a true friend and family member to all," says Gore.
Frierdich worked as a professional photographer at Crafty Eye Photography for 20 years, taking senior pictures for hundreds of high school students.
Gore says they were like brothers and talked everyday.
"I guess it's just his attitude at life, it's just, he didn't there's no getting down when he's around there's no I'm not having a bad day, I'm not doing that," remembers Gore.
Before Frierdich's bicycle accident, which caused his quadriplegia, he was an avid cyclist and loved trails.
One month ago he got a new wheelchair that allowed him to go off-roading.
"I can picture it plain as day, him going right down that trail, and the chair making it and at something he thought I can just go I've never been here this is the coolest place and I can take my chair around here," says Gore.
He says Frierdich probably tried to clear these tree roots, but tumbled down the dirt path plunging into Centennial Park pond in Swansea.
Park patrons spotted his wheelchair late Sunday night after he went missing.
"It's going to be a big void, I mean I told my son today, we are going to have a lot of free time, but it's bad free time compared to what we are used to," he says.
Frierdich's family and friends held numerous fundraisers throughout the years to help him pay for his medical costs.
Most recently they were selling these calendars filled with his photography.
Funeral arrangements have been set for Wednesday 4-8pm at Renners Funeral Home in Belleville.
Also Thursday 8-11am with a service at 11am.