UPDATE V.2: Iowa State student dies in Colorado accident

Rebecca Carton and Pat Shaver

An Iowa State student survived a 300-foot fall in a vehicle but died after walking off a 100-foot cliff in Colorado.

Justin Parker, who was a junior in psychology, was driving on U.S. 24 toward Red Cliff, Colo. He lost control of his vehicle causing it to fall down a 300-foot embankment. He was found after his car was discovered Sept. 30 but his name was not released until a week later.

His car was discovered by tourists who were in the area taking pictures, said his father David Parker of Urbandale.

“His car was not visible from the road,” David said. “A couple of tourists were out taking pictures and they spotted the car and they called the Colorado State Police.”

“The accident itself did not kill him, in fact there was no blood in the car at all. The air bag did deploy. We believe he was just stunned or dazed, we don’t know for sure,” David said.

The Ames Police Department searched Justin’s apartment and didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, said Cmdr. Jim Robinson.

“We found nothing to indicate foul play,” Robinson said. “It sounds like just a tragic accident happened out there.”

David said Justin had told his mother that he eventually wanted to visit the area.

“He did not tell us he was going out there, but that is not unusual for a 24-year-old,” David said.

David said at the time of the accident he believes Justin was shocked which could have caused him to fall or trip off the cliff.

“He wasn’t thinking clear. He left the car doors unlocked, he left the keys on the driver’s seat,” David said. “He left the bag in the car with some money in it. His cell phone was also in the car, although it might not have worked in that area.”

Mikel Kerst, an Eagle County deputy coronor, said that the reason for the delay in identification was a problem with dental records.

“We had to get dental records from Des Moines,” he said. “Iowa doesn’t do them the way they are supposed to.”

Instead, X-rays were sent out, and the forensic dentist that was working on the case became ill, causing more delay.

Footprints found leading into the trees from the site of the car caused investigators to believe that Justin survived the crash. Justin was then believed to fall off a cliff 100 yards from the initial accident, causing his death.

“So what happened from all of the evidence, he was stunned from the fall. He had his seatbelt on, he always wore his seatbelt. The imact was enough to daze or stun him,” David said. “His footprints were on the ground around the car. Our best guess is that since the area he landed in was this old stage coach bed, he was walking down that to find a way down or out.”

Kerst said that the footprints were the only evidence that Justin survived the crash.

Justin’s body was found by a Colorado Air National Guard helicopter during a training excercise. Kerst said that two MapQuest maps were found in Justin’s vehicle: one showing the route from Ames to Red Cliff and the other showing the route from Red Cliff to Ames. The second map to Ames displayed a different route than the one displayed on the previous map.

Kerst said that there was no address listed on Justin’s map, which is commom of maps printed off the Internet. The destination was listed at Pine Street in Red Cliff.

“He probably left early Tuesday morning [Sept. 25],” David said. “Everything was going great and he had decided to give himself a break, by himself. He planned this off, he went to get new windshield wipers for his car, went to Jiffy Lube.”

Kerst said that the crime lab doing the autopsy has been extremely busy with other cases, causing a delay in available information.

“The autopsy has been performed but we dont have any information,” he said.

Kerst also said that although the toxicology labs are taking a long time to process, he believed that alcohol was not a factor in the crash.

“Toxicology reports take 4-6 weeks depending on the lab results,” he said. “Generally 90 percent of alcohol related cases are done within 2 days. We would know if alcohol was involved.”

Kerst said that normal reports often take longer to process than a report indicating alcohol or a substance was in a person’s system.

In terms of investigation, detectives are still waiting to discover the cause of Justin’s accident.

“Bottom line, it was just a terrible, unfortunate accident,” David said.

Justin was born in Des Moines in December 1982 to David and Linda Parker of Urbandale. He graduated from Valley High School in 2001 and began a career in real estate to earn money for college. He attended ISU for a year and half, transferred to Iowa for a year and decided to come back to Iowa State. He was majoring in psychology in hopes of someday becoming a professor. Justin was 24 years old.

“He was very studious, he had a very dry sense of humor,” David said. “He was the type of person who would listen to people and made them feel important.”

He was very mature for his age, David said.

“When he was 19 and selling real estate he had people that worked with him who would have swore that he was 27 or 28 years old,” he said. “One of his closest friends is a gentalman in his mid-50s that he played chess with.”

A memorial service for Justin was held at the Iowa Christian Academy on October 6 in Des Moines.