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Moorhead man forcibly pulled from railroad tracks faces possible civil commitment

MOORHEAD - Mark Flowers was mere seconds from being ripped in two.

The 57-year-old Moorhead man was lying face down across the railroad tracks downtown here between Center and Main avenues on a Wednesday afternoon last week as a locomotive rumbled toward him at full speed.

Police later told him he was acting suicidal, that he lashed out at the passersby who saved his life as he clung to the tracks. County officials say he's a danger to himself and others and want him committed. The first hearing on the commitment petition is set for 10:30 a.m. today at the Clay County Courthouse.

Flowers does have a lengthy list of health problems and has attempted to kill himself before. In 2000, he was committed following a similar hearing in Becker County.

But this time is different, Flowers told The Forum on Tuesday. He's not suicidal, and he has no idea how he got onto those train tracks.

"It's almost like a 'Twilight Zone' episode," he said in a phone interview from Sanford Health's psychiatric ward. "I'm scratching my head because I don't know. I have no idea what happened to three hours of my life."

'10 seconds to live'

It was around 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 23. Flowers was out running errands and had just finished mailing a letter at the post office when he says he began to feel woozy and faint.

"I felt myself pitching forward," he said. "Three hours later, I'm waking up in Sanford."

What he can't remember has been reported by several media outlets. Passersby found him clinging to the rails, apparently suicidal.

Colette Kuznia said she was the first person who saw him - a good Samaritan in the right place at the right time. The licensed counselor, whose office is in downtown Moorhead, was on a lunch break when she saw Flowers. She ran to his aid, and that's when she heard the train.

"I thought, 'He's got about 10 seconds to live, and I can't pull him off,' " Kuznia recalled this week.

So she let out "the most bloodcurdling scream" for help. A nearby man came running, and the two were able to pull Flowers away just as the train hurdled by.

"That was as close a call as I've ever seen," Kuznia said.

Flowers said he can't explain what happened next. He began attacking his saviors.

"I can understand them thinking, 'This guy is suicidal,' " he said.

People who had gathered around him had to restrain him, some sitting on top of him to keep him down.

"I work with people who are potentially suicidal every day and after listening to his story, I think he was just zapped out," Kuznia said. "Likely he thought we were attacking him."

Past and present

Flowers is a danger to himself and to others, according to the petition for his commitment filed in Clay County District Court. The petition is signed by a Clay County Social Services supervisor, Pat Boyer.

He is also mentally ill and chemically dependent, the county's petition claims.

These are two major considerations in the process for involuntary commitment, said Clay County Attorney Brian Melton. The third consideration is if there is no other suitable alternative for the person, such as treatment on an out-patient basis.

If Flowers were to be committed, he would likely be sent to the Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Fergus Falls, where he spent six months in 2000. His case would have to be reviewed after six months, Melton said.

In Clay County last year, 61 people were committed, which is about the annual average, Melton said.

Flowers admits his medical history might lead his doctors to believe he deserves commitment. He is bipolar and has attempted suicide at least three times since his teenage years.

He said he's an alcoholic who has been in and out of rehab, living at Churches United for the Homeless until two years ago when he finally got his own place in Moorhead.

Multiple car accidents have severely damaged his spine, he said, and he has a long history of concussions.

In his current condition, he said he's been labeled "virtually unemployable," and lives on disability.

"I usually have bad headaches, but I don't know what happened that day," he said.

But Flowers also said he had hoped this was going to be the year to turn his life around - starting a medicine regime and quitting self-medicating with liquor.

"I didn't wake up that morning thinking anything about suicide," he said. "I've got beautiful grandchildren. I love my kids. I love my siblings. I would not put them through that."

Signs of trouble

Reflecting on her 22 years of counseling experience, Kuznia believes he's telling the truth. Flowers called her from the psych ward on Sunday to thank her for saving him.

"He was able to expound on what he has to live for, and I think I'm pretty hyper-vigilant with anyone who's suicidal," she said. "I think he was more passed out than anything."

But those who are bipolar often battle wild and rapid emotional swings between an energized manic state and a depressed one, said Rachel Blumhardt, a counselor at The Village Family Service Center.

"When you're in that manic state, that's when your thinking really changes. You become much more impulsive," she said. "There is an element of suicidal risk."

Flowers could only attribute the blackout to lack of sleep - he had been awake for 30 hours prior to the incident.

Blumhardt said insomnia is a tell-tale sign of a manic spree.

When it comes to involuntary commitment, Melton said the cases often hinge on if the person is a continued danger to themselves or other.

"They don't recognize the issues and the things that they're suffering from," he said.

Flowers said he doesn't want to be committed, but he's willing to go to out-patient treatment.

Melton said that is one option. The judge could release him from custody and set him up with out-patient care. A psychiatric evaluation would be ordered to better assess if commitment is needed.

The court could also decide to hold him in custody until that evaluation is complete. Also, the judge could release him and say there isn't enough evidence to even force an evaluation.

More than anything, Flowers wants to find out what happened to him that day. When he called Kuznia, he wanted to thank her, but he also thought maybe she held the secret.

"I wanted to know what was going on," he said. "Three hours of my life gone. I don't know if I'll ever know."