After one quick decision on the train tracks that cost him his legs, Daniel Edmondson hopes to help others learn from his mistake.
The survival of this YMCA lifeguard and safety instructor is a cautionary tale of the high risk of hopping trains. It’s also one of fortitude and moving ahead, despite life’s unexpected twists.
Edmondson, 30, said Friday that he is determined to get on with his future — despite losing his feet and half of his shins — and run in a triathlon, as he’d long planned.
“What other choice do I have than to be positive?” Edmondson said from his hospital bed in Hennepin County Medical Center’s Trauma 1 Unit. “Yeah, it’s painful, but I’ll get prosthetics; I’ll walk again.
“I’m doing that triathlon. And in the meantime, if letting people know the story means that more people will think more about safety in their lives,” then he wants to spread the word, he said.
The incident, which happened nine days ago on Nicollet Island, is under investigation by BNSF railway police but no charges will be pressed, spokeswoman Amy McBeth said Saturday.
“Being on railroad property is illegal and extremely dangerous,” she said. “The only place the public should cross railroad tracks is at a designated crossing.”
Perhaps hardest to fathom for those who know him is why a man nicknamed “Safety Dan,” who teaches outdoor safety for the YMCA and other organizations, would take such a risk.
Highly athletic, Edmondson grew up in a small Ohio town, where he and other local teens would jump trains and ride them to town, or would hop onto the connectors and step across, he said. So he thought nothing of doing it that Friday night.
He was standing in the subzero cold, waiting for a freight train to pass, when he made a decision that he deeply regrets — and one that he now wants to warn others against.
“If I would have waited 15 minutes, I would still have my feet,” Edmondson said.
He said he’d been drinking but wasn’t drunk. He and his friend were heading home.
“Hey, I’m just going to jump across,” he told his friend. “I ran up to the train, and I got up to speed with it, and I grabbed the railing and jumped up. I hopped onto the connector between two cars. I had prepared myself to just jump up, between two cars, and leap out.”
“When I leaped, something caught,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know if it was a shoelace, part of his coat, or a cable that he didn’t see. He plunged four or five feet down, planting his face in the snow.
“You can imagine if you smack your head into the snow, you’re kind of just in shock for a minute there,” he said. “All I know is that I intended to jump out, all of a sudden I fell flat on my face, and I was being dragged by a train. I was absolutely terrified.”
He could see he was being dragged toward a bridge that went over the river. “OK, that’s not snow, it’s metal. It’s going to chew me up, or it’s going to drop me into the river … So I’m just wiggling and praying and hoping to God that this train is going to let me go.”
After about 35 yards, it did. He lay in the snow, calling to his friend.
The lanky lifeguard tried to stand up, but couldn’t. Figuring his boot was caught in the snow, Edmondson reached down and felt only blood, bone, torn denim and squishy tissue.
His feet and lower legs were gone. “Call 911!” he screamed.
His friend, also a lifeguard, was on the phone with 911 as he ran up. He helped get Edmondson’s belt off and cinched it around his waist, asking 911 for tourniquets.
Two Minneapolis police officers arrived, applying tourniquets on his thighs. They worked in the dark because they couldn’t hold their flashlights.
Dr. Jon Krook, one of Edmondson’s surgeons, said that he’d lost a lot of blood and without the tourniquets, he could have bled to death.
Edmondson, who said he remained lucid the entire time, hopes to get out of the hospital this week. He’s arranging for a handicapped ramp at his Minneapolis home and hopes to later return to his work, which focuses on aquatics safety.
“I do feel like I’m alive for reasons,” he said. “The rest of my life has a different path. And maybe it’s very much the same; it’s just adapting now.”
Joy Powell • 612-673-7750