Family of train accident victim from Park Rapids looks for answers
On Dec. 18, Norman Maunu was killed when a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train struck him on the railroad tracks just east of the Highway 54 crossing in Detroit Lakes.
The 54-year-old man was seen lying on the tracks before the train hit him, and many assumed suicide.
But family members don't think so.
"That's just something that we don't think would have ever entered into his mind," sister-in-law Kathy Maunu said.
Instead, the family is hoping to find some answers to lingering questions.
Norman lived in Park Rapids, and since he had epilepsy, he didn't drive but rather rode bike and walked everywhere. On Dec. 17, he started for Detroit Lakes on his bicycle.
Along the way, his bike tire went flat and he stashed the bike to walk to a friend's house. They repaired the tire, and he started out again. It got dark out, so he stashed the bike once again and started to walk toward town.
"He has a beard and long hair," Maunu said. "We always tried to get him to shave and cut his hair, but he always said, 'Minnesota winters are cold.'"
Someone saw Norman stashing the bike and called the police on the basis of suspicious activity. The State Patrol picked him up and brought him to a Detroit Lakes gas station.
"We know that he had two bags with him because the patrolman said he did. He had to have his clothes and his medication and probably his ID in that bag," Maunu said.
The bags weren't luggage though, she added, he carried plastic bags, like Wal-Mart bags, instead.
She said they have no idea why Norman was on his way to Detroit Lakes. He had talked about going to Arizona for the winter, so they don't know if maybe we went looking for train tickets or what exactly.
"We do know that when his body was found, all he had on him was four cents, a flashlight, a brush and his sister's phone number," she said.
With the medication he took for the past 40 years, she continued, "if he wanted to commit suicide, he could have stayed in his warm apartment and overdosed on his medicine."
Norman was hit by the freight train about 6:58 p.m. on Dec. 18, 400 yards east of the Highway 54 crossing.
An hour or two before the train hit him, police received a call that a man was walking along Highway 10 and was nearly hit by an 18-wheeler semi-truck. From the description the driver gave, the police assume it was Norman as well.
After he was hit by the train, police searched the area around the tracks but didn't find any of Norman's personal belongings, Kathy said.
The BNSF train was equipped with a video camera and recorded as the train came around a bend and the matter of seconds before the impact.
"He was actually laying on the tracks, so we're thinking he was frightened because of almost being hit by the 18-wheeler, so he went to the railroad tracks to stay off the road, and we think that he may have fallen and hurt himself and couldn't get up because he never moved before the train hit him," Maunu said.
Maybe he was unconscious or maybe the cold had gotten to him, she said, they don't know.
"We're hoping that if anybody talked to him, or if he stayed with them, or if they have any idea where his personal belongings or medication is, it might give us an idea of what happened."
Anyone with any information on Norman Maunu should call either the Becker County Sheriff's Office at 847-2661 or the Detroit Lakes Police Department at 847-4222.
"He was just a really friendly person," Maunu said. "He loved to laugh, and he talked to anybody."
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