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Witness: Nilles drinking before train accident

Jared Nilles

MOORHEAD - Recently filed court documents shed more light on the investigation into the death of 27-year-old Jared Nilles of Fargo, whose body was found March 19 along the railroad tracks between Glyndon and Hawley.

Investigators aren't yet sure how Nilles, an Amtrak passenger, ended up near the tracks, but a witness says he appeared intoxicated and was texting someone while still aboard.

The details are contained in an affidavit filed by Clay County Detective Jason Hicks in support of a warrant to search Nilles' cellphone records. Hicks told The Forum on Monday that authorities still don't suspect foul play in Nilles' death but continue to try to piece together the events leading up to it.

According to the search warrant affidavit:

A BNSF train engineer spotted a body, later identified as Nilles, on the tracks near the Buffalo River State Park entrance at about 7 a.m. March 19.

Nilles' father, Ralph Nilles, told authorities he last saw his son Jared at the Amtrak station in Fargo at about 2 a.m. that day. He said Jared was going to live in Chicago with a friend and try to get a new start on life. Jared had been struggling with alcohol addiction and wanted to leave the Fargo area, his father said.

An assistant conductor on the Amtrak train said he remembered Jared Nilles from the train ride. He said there had been a short layover at the Dilworth rail yard, and while conducting rounds, he told four men who appeared to be drinking alcohol in the lounge area to leave because it was closed.

The assistant conductor remembered that one of the four men got off the train in Staples. On March 20, that passenger told a state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent that he, Nilles and two other men were drinking and visiting in the lounge area until they were asked to leave. He said Nilles appeared to be sending text messages from a cellphone.

The passenger said after leaving the lounge area, he didn't see Nilles again and didn't know what happened to him. He said Nilles was "very intoxicated," and he thought Nilles went to the passenger area and fell asleep, the affidavit states.

Hicks obtained the warrant for Nilles' phone records on March 21. At that time, authorities hadn't yet recovered Nilles' phone, but it was later found in his baggage collected from the train, Hicks said.

The affidavit was filed Friday in Clay County District Court. The records sought include cell tower locations, which could help authorities determine the train's location during calls and text messages to and from Nilles' phone.

Hicks said investigators were still waiting Monday for Nilles' phone records and train video from BNSF. Preliminary autopsy results listed Nilles' cause of death as undetermined.