PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — There's not a lot of sense behind what happened in a park in Denver, Colo., a month ago, but somehow Austin Nelson still remembers the event in eerie detail.
"My partner and I were walking in the Civic Park in downtown Denver," Nelson said of the Saturday, Jan. 30, incident. "That's when we heard a car hit the curb and the sound of acceleration."
At first Nelson and Collin Davis-Johnson thought the vehicle had accidentally hopped the curb and would stop before it got too far into the park, but then they saw it accelerating directly toward them and they tried to get away.
"My partner went left, I went right," said Nelson, a 2012 Pequot Lakes High School graduate. "Once the car turned right I knew something was wrong. It was no longer just an accident."
If he had any doubt about the driver's intentions, it was quickly washed away.
"I heard the driver yelling out his window, 'I'm coming to get you f-----, I'm coming to get you'," Nelson said.
Nelson was running to get on the other side of a lamp post to put something solid between himself and the vehicle, but hearing the yelling, he looked at the driver in the vehicle only feet away and tripped.
The driver ran over Nelson's left foot and leg, but he continued turning toward where Nelson fell and managed to also drive over Nelson's pelvis before driving the wrong direction down a one-way street where he stopped.
Davis-Johnson ran to Nelson's aid, but other witnesses were quickly driven away when the driver got out of his vehicle carrying what Nelson said he and many others assumed was a gun. However, it was a cellphone.
"He started taking photos of us and was yelling, 'Woohoo, this is what you get. This is what's coming'," Nelson said.
At first Nelson could only feel the intense pain in his pelvis and couldn't feel below his waist. He worried his legs could have been severed, or his spinal column. After they realized the driver was not armed with a gun, bystanders came back to help him before the driver fled the scene.
"He started taking photos of us and was yelling, 'Woohoo, this is what you get. This is what's coming'."
— Austin Nelson.
The injuries could have easily been fatal. They didn't know it yet, but Nelson had suffered a torn artery, among many other injuries.
"I had 19 blood transfusions," Nelson said. "I had major internal bleeding."
Nelson's doctors told him he was within 20 minutes of dying from blood loss.
"Thankfully I was only 5 minutes from a trauma 1 hospital," Nelson said.
Nelson suffered a laundry list of injuries in the attack: foot sprain, foot dislocation, foot fractures, torn pudendal artery, torn urethra, torn bladder, torn pelvic muscles, shattered sacrum, shattered inferior pubic ramus and displaced pubic symphysis.
He was able to pick the driver out of a lineup while at the hospital in Colorado, and said his incident was part of a rampage attack that happened throughout Denver. The driver, a 23-year-old man, was arrested the day of the attack and is in custody awaiting trial. His arrest came after several hit-and-run crashes that injured four people — Nelson, two police officers and a prisoner.
Before returning home to Minnesota, Nelson had to undergo 12 days at a hospital with surgeries to repair his various serious injuries. His hospital stay could have been much longer if Davis-Johnson and his family had not been able to find him safe transportation back to Minnesota. (A seasonal resident, Nelson splits his time between Minneapolis and Crosslake, Minn. Nelson is a member of Crosslake Lutheran Church and a graduate of Luther Seminary. He does "pulpit fill" supply preaching at Crosslake Presbyterian Church.)
To hold the broken pieces of his pelvis together, Nelson has a metal "T-bar" that he calls a "towel bar" that is bolted into his hips and protrudes out of the skin on the front of his body. Because of his condition, the hospital would not have allowed him to be released if he was being transported by automobile, and neither Nelson nor Davis-Johnson thought he was fit for public air travel.
"I was so thankful and fortunate that many people in the lakes area contacted a gentleman, a random person, that had a handicap accessible plane coming from Arizona to St. Cloud on Wednesday (Feb. 10)," Nelson said. "We agreed to pay the cost of the flight, which was thankfully covered by generous donors. I am so thankful to those who have helped, such as the Crosslake Lions, the (Crosslake) Log Church, Crosslake Presbyterian and so many more. The expense to get me home safely was a huge concern because the hospital was not going to let me be released."
Paramedics loaded him into the plane, and upon landing he was transported to Davis-Johnson's family's home in St. Paul where he will recover.
"You can't recover in a hospital," Nelson said. "They're constantly coming in your room, for good reasons, but you need rest and sleep to recover. I'm finally able to at least sleep as best as I can. The T-bar doesn't make it so easy. Resting, being able to be with family and have friends visit, as well as being able to set up quality care, has been really important."
Doctors are hopeful the T-bar can be removed at the end of March and his foot might also be healed by then. He likely will still be using a wheelchair for some time; however, he expects to be able to begin physical therapy soon after the T-bar is removed. He hopes to be able to put weight on his left leg and foot by the end of April.
"But healing is different for everyone," Nelson said.
"It brings tears to my eyes just how much our community has reached out and continues to support Collin and I after this tragic event. It just helps the healing process to know people are thinking of you."
— Austin Nelson.
In spite of the terrible nature of the incident that led to his injuries, Nelson is not hesitant to gush about how blessed he feels.
"(I'm) just thankful for all the continued support and prayers and all the giving that they have done and the people who have donated to help support our financial burdens and just all the relief that people have given," Nelson said. "It brings tears to my eyes just how much our community has reached out and continues to support Collin and I after this tragic event. It just helps the healing process to know people are thinking of you."