July 29, 2014

Elyria
Partly sunny
71°F
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Crash victim known as park biologist

CLEVELAND — A driver involved in a three-vehicle accident Friday night is a popular aquatic biologist for the Cleveland Metroparks.

Michael Durkalec, 41, of Wakeman, remained in critical condition Monday at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. He was injured when his vehicle and one coming in the opposite direction on state Route 113 collided head-on after Durkalec tried to pass a dump truck about to turn off the road into a driveway.

Based at the Metroparks’ Rocky River Reservation in North Olmsted, Durkalec was hired in 2005, according to Metroparks spokeswoman Sue Allen.

Durkalec’s duties include development of plans for the management of fisheries and water resources within the park district.

“Anywhere we have fishing available in the parks, Mike manages that program, as well as the (fish) stocking,” Allen said.
Durkalec is well-known and respected not only within the park system but by area fishing enthusiasts as well.

“He has quite a following,” Allen said. “There aren’t too many fishermen or women who don’t know him or haven’t at least heard of him.”

Describing Durkalec as “a very nice guy,” Allen said he was active on Facebook and had recently posted “quite a bit about a dog he was very fond of who just passed away after 15 years,” Allen said.

Durkalec has been a topic of concern for Metroparks personnel since they learned of the accident.

“I doubt there was a conversation that took place around here today that didn’t mention Mike’s name,” Allen said Monday.

Durkalec was a solid, very competitive wrestler while a student at Baldwin-Wallace College, according to fellow wrestler and teammate Tony Cipollone, the current director of athletics at Westlake High School.

“I was shocked to see that somebody you know is in that kind of situation,” Cipollone said of the crash that injured Durkalec. “He’s a little younger than me.”

A 1992 BW graduate, Cipollone was a year ahead of Durkalec, who graduated in 1993 in environmental studies, according to information from Kevin Ruple, sports information director for the school, now called Baldwin Wallace University.

“I hope he fights like crazy,” Cipollone said. “He has some of that wrestler mentality. He was very physical. He liked lifting weights. He was very strong. He was always hard-nosed and tough.”

Durkalec wrestled at BW from the winter of 1989 through the spring of 1993, posting a 73-33-3 record with nine pins.

During his college years he wrestled in various weight classes, including 134 as a freshman in 1989-90, 142 pounds as a sophomore and 152 pounds in his junior year, when he enjoyed a record of 26-10-2.

As a senior he had a mark of 24-8 wrestling at 150 pounds.

Durkalec attended graduate school at The Ohio State University, Ruple said.

Cipollone had not been in close contact with Durkalec in recent years but said they were fairly close in college.

“Wrestlers are usually a pretty tight-knit group, and we were no different,” Cipollone said.

No charges have been filed from the crash, which remains under investigation, according to the Elyria post of the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Durkalec was westbound on Route 113 about 6:15 p.m. Friday when state troopers said he tried to go around a dump truck in the westbound lane and struck an eastbound pickup driven by Brent Leimbach, 33, of Amherst, who was in fair condition Monday at MetroHealth.

The driver of the dump truck was not injured.

Contact Steve Fogarty at5 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.