A bout a week ago, he had seen the tunnel, imagined its photographic possibilities and checked it out, but Ian Talty knew his limitations. After 50 feet, he wasn't going any farther on his own.
It was Nick Breid, then, a friend since high school, who was with him Sunday morning. Each was carrying two cameras, as they headed about a mile into the storm-sewer tunnel feeding into the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Sometime before 10 a.m., the rain started to fall.
The two men doubled back, Breid said Monday, but storm water knocked them off their feet. Three-quarters of a mile from the river, Breid said, they went on "the worst possible water slide" of their lives.
Talty, eventually pulled from the river by rescuers, was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center.
As for Breid, he wasn't quite sure yet Monday just how well he was doing. Despite the fact that Talty was 50 yards ahead of him when they hit the river, and despite having to yank off his own jacket and backpack while underwater, and then struggle to swim ashore, he thinks he could've done more to save his friend.
"He's the best person I've ever known," Breid said.
Police spokesman Peter Panos said Monday that Talty and Breid trespassed on city property, making the death "a tragedy that's so easily prevented."
Anyone choosing to break the law by entering a storm sewer also ought to know all the potential hazards -- such as the threat of rain, Panos said.
Two years ago in St. Paul, two sewer workers died when a mid-afternoon downpour swept them from the tunnels in the Frogtown area into the Mississippi River.
Talty, 30, of Woodbury, dreamed of one day being a full-time photographer, and displayed his work at a weblog dubbed The Joy of the Mundane: mundanejoy.tumblr.com/
"Decay, Ruin, Rust, & Corrosion" was among his photo sets at flickr.com. There, Talty wrote, "Without interference, nature would slowly break down everything man has ever done, and take the world back. I am recording this process, and quietly rooting for nature."
His wife, Nicole Talty, however, and his stepson, Cody, "they were his life," Breid said.
Breid, 29, of Richfield, said he had known Talty since they were students at Richfield High School, but it wasn't until after they graduated that they "started hanging out more and more."
Many times, Breid said, the two explored tunnels: "It's what we did on weekends," he said. They'd look for graffiti or for bolts sticking out of walls, "whatever we thought would make a cool picture."
On Sunday, when the men entered the storm tunnel south of the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue bridge, they wore headlamps. Breid had on waders, too. He managed to take some photos, he said, but figures the cameras now are at the river bottom.
Of the fight to swim ashore, Breid said, "I didn't think I was going to make it there for a while."
Talty was pulled into a boat by two University of St. Thomas students and a St. Paul police officer. On shore, they administered CPR, as did paramedics. The students, like Breid, would be left to wonder if there was more they could have done.
Still, there is Talty's art. About a week ago, Breid said, his friend told him of plans for a gallery showing of his work, perhaps as early as this summer. Asked Monday if it will still happen, Breid replied: "Oh, it's going to happen. We're going to do our damnedest to make sure it happens."
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109