The Meeker County Sheriff's Office is investigating a fatal accident involving a snowmobile and a train near the 600 block of Parker Avenue East in Dassel shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.
According to Sheriff Jeff Norlin, two snowmobiles were traveling along the railroad track when an eastbound Burlington Northern/Santa Fe train came down the tracks. The lead snowmobile driver lost control and slid into the side of the train.
Officials say the driver of the crashed snowmobile -- identified as 31-year-old Paul Fenske, of Silver Lake -- became caught on one of the rail cars far from the locomotives and was pulled under the train. The snowmobile was also dragged down the tracks.
Fenske was pronounced dead at the scene.
One of Fenske's childhood friends, Adam Birkholz, told FOX 9 News he came to the scene because he needed to see the spot where the man who had been his friend since grade school lost his life.
"I just felt I had to see it for myself because some of the stories just weren't adding up," he said. "This wasn't a high-speed, crazy snowmobile accident. This was just an accident."
After looking at the scene where Fenske's snowmobile lost control, Birkholz said he believes the ski must have caught the rail of a side track that was covered by snow until joining up with the main line.
"I think he got caught in a bad spot he wasn't quite familiar with," Birkholz said, explaining that his friend was not a risk taker. "He's a very, very sensible guy. If he thought he was going to put himself in danger, he wouldn't have been here. He rides nice and easy."
Birkholz said Fenske and his neighbor had been out riding the trails all day before the crash. Neither had been drinking and they hadn't stopped to eat because they'd had some engine trouble and just wanted to get home.
Fenske's neighbor saw the collision but was not involved and was not harmed.
In Dassel, it's very apparent that lots of people ride along the tracks -- and there's even plenty of room in town; however, on the east side of town, there is a spot where the tracks rung along an elevated plateau. The ground drops away, similar to a railroad bridge, leaving a rider trapped with nowhere to go but straight.
Investigators say the train crew was unaware of the collision because it was several cars away. The train was stopped further down the tracks and is being inspected to determine which rail car was involved.
The crash remains under investigation.