Daniel Edmondson embracing new life after losing legs on Nicollet Island

Nicollet Island train tracks at night
Nicollet Island train tracks at night
Jesse Marx

Daniel Edmondson was looking for a shortcut.

It was just past midnight, and the noise of the Hennepin Avenue club had receded. He and a friend were headed to a house on Nicollet Island as a train crossed their path.

SEE ALSO: Railworker killed in Northstar Line accident 

Edmondson grabbed a ladder in the dark and imagined how he'd soon be grinning and standing on the other side of the tracks. Growing up in Delaware, Ohio, Edmondson used to hitch rides to get around, and it'd always gone smoothly.

But something caught him this time as he jumped. It rocketed him toward the screeching steel and dragged him for about 30 yards before spitting him loose. Up ahead was a bridge, where he could have been smashed or dropped into the river.

He lay on his back and composed himself -- the feeling of terror having melted into laughter at the realization that he'd just cheated death. He tried to stand but couldn't. His cold fingers crept down his legs and stopped just below the knee, on a bloody pulp of denim and bone.

The sound of screaming guided his friend, who called 911. Together, they ripped Edmondson's belt from its loops and wrapped it around his stomach to slow the bleeding. He remained conscious until after the paramedics took him away.

"The next thing I knew," he says, "I woke up in a hospital bed with my legs gone."

Gruesome though they are, pedestrian-related accidents on train tracks are incredibly rare.

Early news reports suggested alcohol was a factor in the Nicollet Island accident on Feb. 1, but Edmondson insists that he consumed three beers over the course of several hours and wasn't drunk. He takes full responsibility for what happened.

But even if he didn't, the legal accountability of the railroads in these situations would be limited because laws view almost anyone on the tracks as a criminal trespasser. In fact, the possibility of prosecution still hangs over Edmondson's head, though both the Minneapolis Police Department and BNSF Railroad, which owns the train that severed his legs, said they did not immediately plan to press charges.

It's been one week since Edmondson entered HCMC's trauma unit, and his room has begun to fill with books and games -- the boredom-killing darlings of hospital life.

One of his friends reminds him that, with or without prosthetic limbs, he's already got his next Halloween costume picked out.

"I gotta be Lieutenant Dan," Edmondson says, smiling.

Of course, the darkness has a way of creeping back into his thoughts, and he woke up one night last week, he says, in the throes of a panic attack. In his dream, he was haunted by the sounds of being dragged -- the grinding wheels, the crunching snow, his own helpless, heavy breathing.

Talking openly about the accident brings Edmondson a sense of clarity and acceptance, because, he says, "if you're able to speak about it without crying, you're over it."

At 30, this man who once thought himself invincible will have to completely restructure his life. Edmondson won't be going back to his job as a YMCA lifeguard and instructor, but the serious look on his face masks the excitement in his voice. He ticks off his new goals, which include getting behind a drum kit again and competing in a triathlon.

Sitting up now, Edmondson removes his braces and begins massaging his bandaged stumps.

"What option do I have other than to be positive?" he says. "I could let this destroy me, but that accomplishes nothing. Part of why I jumped on that train is that I'm adventurous, and I want to fulfill those parts of me in a different way now."

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]

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