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Ex-Marine who survived Iraq bombing died of drugs

Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

PEORIA – A former Marine from Illinois who was badly disfigured by a suicide bombing in Iraq died of a combination of heroin and alcohol intoxication, a coroner’s inquest determined.

Tyler Ziegel died Dec. 26 after a fall, but Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll said Saturday it was the combination of drugs in his system – not the fall – that killed him. The coroner’s jury ruled Thursday that the 30-year-old’s death was accidental.

Ziegel of Washington, Ill., was badly disfigured in 2004 bomb attack during his second tour of duty in Iraq. His skull was shattered, he was blinded in one eye and he suffered severe burns to his face and body.

A photo of him standing in uniform two years later next to his fiancée before their wedding won a World Press Photo award and is considered one of the most striking images to emerge from the Iraq War.

His story of recovery – he endured dozens of surgeries – was cited by politicians. Gov. Pat Quinn mentioned his name in this year’s State of the State address in February.

“Like so many of his fellow wounded warriors, Ty fought back,” Quinn said in the address. “He fought back through 59 surgeries and untold emotional scars to become an advocate for veterans and military families.”

The 2006 photo of Ziegel and his fiancée was a studio portrait taken in Washington, Ill., on their wedding day. He is dressed in his crisp Marine Corps uniform, his face left nearly featureless by his injuries. Next to him is a somber, unsmiling bride staring blankly at the camera in a white dress and holding a bouquet of red flowers.

The photographer, Nina Berman, said the image demonstrated the war’s impact beyond the battlefield.

“People don’t think this war has any impact on Americans? Well here it is,” she said in an interview in November at the opening of a Houston exhibit that included the image.

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