Joe Nevis doesn’t remember much about the early morning hours of last Christmas Eve, when a train rolling through Marysville sliced off both his legs as he lay on the railroad tracks where he had fallen near a park.
“I don’t remember the incident at all,” Nevis, 29, said in an interview this week. “I remember waking up in the pitch black feeling like my legs were numb, like I’ve been walking through snow all day. I couldn’t see my legs... I felt down and felt my shinbone, so I knew something bad had happened.”
There, in the pitch dark, Nevis said, he yelled for help until it became apparent no one could hear him.
“Eventually, I realized nobody was coming to help me, so I fell asleep on this object that I found, and it turned out to be my left leg I slept on that night,” he said.
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Today, Nevis is still recovering from the incident, and has filed a federal negligence lawsuit against Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Marysville’s Rideout Memorial Hospital seeking damages for injuries that will affect him for the rest of his life.
The railroads and the hospital would not comment this week on pending litigation, but Nevis’ lawsuit, filed by Sacramento attorney Daniel Wilcoxen, describes a gruesome night during which Nevis spent hours trapped near the tracks until he was discovered by a passer-by at dawn.
Nevis says he has no memory of how he ended up on the tracks or the hours preceding that, but the lawsuit cites medical and other records – including a video recording of the incident taken by a camera on the train’s lead locomotive – to describe how he went from a healthy young construction worker to a legless man trying to rebuild his life.
According to the lawsuit, Nevis checked himself into an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Yuba City called “Buddy’s House” in April 2016, and spent eight months working through the program.
He had been working various construction jobs until Dec. 23, when he finished a shift, the lawsuit says.
“What happened next is unknown by Mr. Nevis; what is known is that at some point he consumed alcohol,” the lawsuit says.
Nevis says he can’t recall what happened after that.
“I went to work that day and cashed my check and got on the bus, and after that I have really no memory,” he said in an interview in Wilcoxen’s midtown office. “I remember falling down after I got off the bus and hurting my ankle … That was the last thing I remember, hurting my ankle.”
According to the lawsuit, Nevis was picked up by local law enforcement officers, who decided he was “too drunk for jail” and took him to Rideout Memorial Hospital, where he was deposited at 1:26 a.m.
At 1:42 a.m., he was admitted to a room and a short time later seen by an emergency room physician “for less than one minute,” the lawsuit says. He was discharged at 1:56 a.m. without anyone calling to have someone pick him up or have police come get him, the lawsuit says.
“Instead, Mr. Nevis was allowed to wander out of the Rideout Memorial Hospital emergency department and back onto the streets that law enforcement officers had just removed him from for his own safety,” the lawsuit says.
He wandered into a park, then to a “clearly visible pedestrian path” that the lawsuit says belongs to either Union Pacific or Amtrak.
“At the end of the pedestrian path are a set of mainline railroad tracks,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Nevis walked across the train tracks to where pedestrian paths enter the park area.
“Mr. Nevis tripped over the tracks and ended up on the back side of the tracks near the park area.”
Then, the train came through.
The lawsuit says the northbound Amtrak train – which Amtrak schedules indicate would have been the Coast Starlight train to Seattle – passed through at about 2:50 a.m. traveling 25 mph.
“The forward-facing video camera on the passenger train’s lead locomotive shows that Mr. Nevis was clearly visible to anyone inside the locomotive keeping a proper lookout, i.e., being alert and attentive,” the lawsuit says.
The train operators took no action to sound the locomotive’s horn or try to brake, the suit says, and “ran over Mr. Nevis, amputating his left leg above the knee and his right leg below the knee.”
The train continued on its route and no one reported the incident, the suit says, “either because no one noticed they had run over a human being, or the operators of the train did not believe it was necessary to stop or notify anyone.”
Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs referred questions about the incident to Amtrak. Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said in an email that Amtrak “does not comment on pending litigation.” Rideout Memorial spokeswoman Deanne Armstrong gave the same response.
The lawsuit says Nevis lay on the tracks for six hours, until he was discovered at about 8 a.m. by a motorcycle dirt rider who called 911. Authorities were dispatched at 8:54 a.m., the lawsuit says. Photos of the scene taken by Marysville police show Nevis lying near the tracks, along with one of his severed legs.
Nevis, who was taken back to Rideout and spent three weeks there before being discharged, credits his survival to sheer will.
“I’m very strong-willed,” he said. “I made myself roll away and go to bed after I yelled for 20 to 30 minutes for help,” he said. “Nobody was coming.”
Now, Nevis said, he is living with his father, relying on him for help and trying to create some semblance of a normal life. He hopes to start school at a community college in the spring, and says he will be able to use prosthetic legs at some point.
But he knows the path forward will be hard.
“I’m probably never going to recover from this,” he said. “This is a life-changing event.”