Robert A. Slimak, a third-year student at the University of Richmond's T.C. Williams School of Law, died after falling from the notoriously dangerous Crabtree Falls cliffs in Nelson County.
He died around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, relatives said, while on a hiking trip with his alumni fraternity friends from Virginia Commonwealth University, becoming the 25th person to perish after tumbling from the falls. Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in the Cannon Memorial Chapel.
The cliffs claim the highest vertical drop east of the Mississippi River, according to several outdoors Web sites. A one-foot high stone barrier separates hikers from the edge of the falls, but Slimak's sister, Katherin Crossling, said sightseers routinely stepped over the barrier to watch the sunset and enjoy the view.
Slimak, 26, had hiked to Crabtree falls several times before with friends and family, including once with his wife Holly Slimak, 24, during an anniversary celebration at the same spot where he died Saturday, his sister said. Slimak was fond of Richmond's beauty and enjoyed camping and hiking in the area, his sister said.
"It is unacceptable that a park knows people are dying there and are content with it," Crossling said.
Slimak, who grew up in Springfield County in Northern Virginia and attended West Springfield High School, was expected to graduate this May. He earned a political science degree from VCU in 1999. That's where he met his wife, whom he first met during a blind date, and they both opted to stay in Richmond.
"He really felt in touch with the Richmond community," Crossling said. "He liked the southern community and the big and small city aspects of Richmond."
Slimak remained active with alumni friends from VCU after he graduated, in particular with members of his fraternity, Theta Delta Chi. He was with fraternity alumni when he went to Crab Tree Falls last Saturday.
According to a post by Slimak's brother Alan, 31, on the Washington Redskins fan Web site ExtremeSkins.com, all of Slimak's family "bleeds burgundy and gold."
"He loved the Redskins with every ounce of his being," Alan said about his brother. "One thing that helps me through all this is the fact that the first thing he did when he got to heaven was to have a handshake with Sean and talk about how great it was that the Cowgirls blew last season." Colleagues and professors recalled Slimak as a quiet-natured, openhearted and easy-to-like student.
"He's left a huge hole among a lot of friends," said John Douglass, acting dean of the law school. "[The dean's office] has had conversations with a number of his friends who are shocked and troubled."
Students and friends of Slimak gathered Tuesday afternoon in the law school to speak with Acting Chaplain Kate O'Dwyer Randall, an experienced grief counselor.
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The law school comprises 485 students, which amounts to about 160 students for each of three classes.
"Any loss is a hard loss," Douglass said. "But it's especially hard when you have a small and close group. It's a small enough school where people get to know each other."
Slimak was practicing law this semester with the Commonwealth Attorney's office in Richmond in preparation to become a full-time trial lawyer after graduation. He tried real cases as part of his placement and was active with the trial advocacy board program at the school, Douglass said. "He was really good at arguing the point on behalf of the Commonwealth," said assistant commonwealth attorney Elizabeth Hobbs, who was Slimak's supervisor during his internship.
Slimak also worked as a law firm legal assistant at Coates and Davenport, Crossling said.
The viewing will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Bliley Funeral Home at 3801 Augusta Ave.
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