Iraq vet talks of fatal rock toss
CASPER, Wyo. ” Tears in his eyes, an Iraq war veteran recounted for the first time publicly the desperate remorse he felt after tossing a large rock off a cliff that killed a climber below.
“I’d do anything to change it,” 23-year-old Luke Rodolph said Tuesday.
On Aug. 11, Rodolph was sitting on the rim of a canyon with three others when he picked up a 15- to 20-pound rock the size of a bowling ball and looked over the edge.
He said he didn’t see anyone below.
“I picked up a rock and threw it off,” he said. “Looked over just a little further to watch it fall, see where it was going to hit, you know, kinda leaned out further than what I was comfortable with normally, and watched it hit Pete Absolon.”
There was no time for a warning, Rodolph said. He said he didn’t see Absolon, 47, until the rock struck him in the head.
The group called 911 on a cell phone, then rushed down to Leg Lake Basin. Steve Herlihy, a National Outdoor Leadership School instructor, had been climbing with Absolon, the school’s Rocky Mountain director, and asked Rodolph and his group what had happened.
“Luke looked him dead in the eye and said, ‘I threw it,”‘ said his brother, Aaron Rodolph, who was with him. “I’ll never forget, as long as I live, that Steve looked Luke dead back in the eyes and said, ‘I forgive you for that’.”
Absolon, who had a wife and daughter, had been climbing with Herlihy along a new route up the cliff face of Leg Lake Cirque in the Wind River Mountains near Lander.
“It’s unbearable for them to have to go through this. It’s my fault,” Luke Rodolph said.
He stayed with Herlihy and Absolon’s body in the basin overnight while the rest of the group went back to their campsite.
“Steve and I just talked for a while, sat around the campfire,” Rodolph said. “I told him I’d go into town with him and talk with the sheriff and give him a statement, and whatever happens, happens.”
The morning after Absolon’s death, Rodolph and Herlihy hiked out of the area to Lander. Later that day, Rodolph spoke with Fremont County Attorney Ed Newell and an investigator before returning to his home in Casper.
Absolon’s body was recovered the same day.
Eleven days later, Newell announced that Rodolph would not be charged. He cited several factors in his decision, including the fact that Rodolph took responsibility for his actions, was extremely remorseful, didn’t intend to cause harm, had no criminal history and served in Iraq.
In an e-mail to the Casper Star-Tribune, Absolon’s widow, Molly, said she didn’t have a comment on Newell’s decision not to charge Rodolph.
Gary Wilmot, an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School, said that while he feels compassion for Rodolph, throwing a rock from a cliff is irresponsible.
“We recognize that he is hurting, but we are also working on filling a big void in our community and a family here in Lander,” Wilmot said.