116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — It had been over seven months since Erik Spaw’s city truck was found submerged in the Cedar River when hunters found his body, some 11 miles downstream.
Spaw worked for the Cedar Rapids Water Division and loved racing, snowmobiling and water biking. Now, all these months later, his family is relieved his body was found in December, but agonized by his death.
“I’m glad he was found, because you drive over the river, and you just wonder where he’s at,” said Johnny Spaw, his older brother. “Now we know where he’s at. At least we got that part, we’re not wondering where he’s at. So, it does help a lot, but it’s still hard.”
The six hunters who found Spaw’s body said that while they are shaken by the experience, they’re grateful to provide some certainty to his family.
“It’s just something that completely changed my life, because this family looked for seven months. … And after knowing that we provided that closure to them, and seeing them now grieve again,” Trent Addis, 30, of Marion, said of finding Spaw’s remains Dec. 30 on the banks of the Cedar River near Bertram.
“First you grieve the loss, then you grieve the unknown and now you grieve the death. It’s something that I never want my family members to ever go through while I’m on the water,” he said.
The six men were hunting along the river when they discovered the body on the riverbank. The remains were later confirmed by authorities to be of Spaw, who was missing since May 7, 2022.
Spaw’s work truck was found submerged in the Cedar River just upstream of the Edgewood Road Bridge, leading to an extended search of the river for his body.
His mother told The Gazette her son, who was 54, had diabetes and had been having trouble regulating his insulin intake, so she believed he may have passed out from low-blood sugar and driven into the river
Tyler Dvorak, 30, of Marion, who’s in the U.S. Army and works at the Army recruiting office in Cedar Rapids, was the hunter who first noticed a pair of boots on the riverbank.
“It sparked my curiosity. In the Army, we’re trained for attention to detail, know what’s in your surroundings. So, I was like, ‘OK, this is foreign. Let me go check it out,’ ” he said.
Dvorak called his friends over — who are all in the Army or are Army veterans — to confirm the discovery and then called 911.
Chris Ainesworth, 35, of Cedar Rapids, met police at a nearby railroad track and directed them to the body.
“We heard (the police) say, ‘Red Wing boots?’ on the radio, and then, ‘Yeah, Red Wing boots,’ and then, ‘It’s probably him,’ ” Dvorak said.
The friends said they’d seen posters about Spaw’s disappearance that his family had put up along the Cedar River. They regularly would remind each other to keep an eye out when they were hunting or fishing near the river, Addis said.
Several of Spaw’s family members have reached out to the group, Ainesworth said, and they plan to set up a time to meet in person.
Spaw went missing after working a night shift at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant and never returning to the J Avenue Water Treatment Plant, where his personal car was parked. Cedar Rapids’ search and rescue teams spent several days searching the river near where his city truck was found near the Edgewood Road Bridge.
Spaw’s family also hired a professional search team from Minnesota to canvass the area.
Finding Spaw’s body, the hunters said, has increased the respect they have for the potential dangers of being on and near the water.
“We’ve hunted our whole lives, but since that day, we wear our life jackets on the boat now. I know it sounds crazy,” Addis said. “It’s stupid that we never did.”
Johnny Spaw, 60, of Cedar Rapids, said he’s grateful to the hunters for finding his brother’s body, and he’s glad to have a clearer answer about what happened.
“It’s never going to be over. It’s something that will be with all of us forever,” he said. “But it helps.”
He owns a welding and metal fabrication shop called Johnny Spaw Race Cars. He has a picture of his brother hanging in his shop that he talks to some nights as he’s leaving. It’s a picture of Erik in a racecar after he won a race at Hawkeye Downs in the early 1990s.
Erik and his brothers all used to race cars and motorcycles, and Erik also really enjoyed snowmobiling and riding his personal watercraft, Johnny Spaw said.
“It’s ironic that he died on that river because he spent a lot of time on that river, especially right down there where the accident was,” he said. “He did a lot of Jet Skiing. He actually competed. They had some deal late in the summer down there, some drag racing, so he would actually take his Jet Ski and race against guys in boats.”
Erik was planning to throw away the Hawkeye Downs picture a few years ago, but his brother saved it and hung it in his shop when his brother went missing. “Before the accident, some people didn’t know him, and it kind of helps people see who he was and what he used to do when he raced,” he said.
“When I would leave at night, I would just tell him good night and say, ‘You just need to come home. We need to find you.’ I just kept saying, ‘Where are you at?’ Turns out, he was already home. Where he was found at is about as close to the neighborhood that we grew up in as he could get.”
Comments: (319) 398-8328; firstname.lastname@example.org