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Published August 14 2012

Death of Fargo man hit by train ruled accidental

MOORHEAD – The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has completed its investigation into the death of a Fargo man whose body was found March 19 along the railroad tracks between Glyndon and Hawley, ruling his death accidental.

The probe into the death of 27-year-old Jared Nilles wrapped up last week after the sheriff’s office received Amtrak’s final report.

“It appears it was an unfortunate accident,” Chief Deputy Matt Siiro said.

Siiro said investigators found no evidence of foul play in the death of Nilles, who was traveling from Fargo to Chicago aboard the Empire Builder passenger train.

“We treated it like a criminal investigation from the start, trying to cover all the bases, and we never came across a red flag that concerned us,” he said.

Sheriff Bill Bergquist said the lengthy investigation included interviewing train passengers from across the country.

Investigators found no one who witnessed Nilles’ getting off the moving train. Authorities believe he opened a door and fell out, but it’s unclear which door because it apparently closed behind him, Siiro and Bergquist said.

The train had no internal surveillance system or cameras in the general passenger area, and no security buzzers or warnings if a door is open, according to the investigative report.

“It’s one of those things where you can investigate it and investigate it, but you’re still never going to get an answer why, which I think is hard for the family,” Bergquist said.

According to the report, a passenger on the train told authorities that Nilles had been drinking in the lounge area of the train. The passenger said Nilles “was extremely intoxicated when he was sitting with him and he had not seen Nilles after they were asked to leave the lounge area of the train,” the report states. The autopsy report indicates Nilles' approximate blood-alcohol concentration was 0.37 percent.

Based on evidence and witness statements, it appeared that at some point Nilles tried to smoke a cigarette on the eastbound train, Detective Jason Hicks wrote in his report. An unlit cigarette and a lighter were found at the point of impact where a westbound BNSF train hit Nilles’ body after he apparently fell out of the Amtrak train just before a trestle bridge, the report says.

Nilles’ body was found along the tracks near the Buffalo River State Park entrance at about 7 a.m.

Lt. Steve Landsem said the sheriff’s office will reopen the case if new evidence comes to light, but he added, “I think we’ve exhausted almost everything we can do.”

“We may never know exactly what happened,” he said.

For more on this story, see Wednesday’s Forum.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528