RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Hundreds of people stood in the rain on Second Street Sunday morning, May 17, to honor local firefighter and EMT Eddie Nicholson, who was killed in an on-track accident at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond Friday night.
Nicholson was helping clear the scene of a collision during a school bus race during the season opener at the speedway when one of the damaged buses rolled onto him, according to the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office
According to reports, the bus flipped on the three-eighths-mile clay track's second turn. As workers attempted to right the bus and clear the scene, a system failure caused the bus to fall onto the 62-year-old Nicholson. The sheriff’s office confirmed that Nicholson died at the scene.
It was the first night of racing at the speedway, which opened its season after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down business restrictions imposed by Gov. Tony Evers because of the coronavirus. Racing was canceled Saturday night.
Sunday morning a hearse from O’Connell-Benedict Funeral home in Ellsworth brought Nicholson’s body back to River Falls, escorted by dozens of vehicles representing fire departments and EMS services from all over Pierce and St. Croix counties, along with multiple trucks from Twin Cities Transport and Recovery, where Nicholson was employed.
Members of the River Falls Fire Department saluted their comrade alongside a chair holding Nicholdson’s gear as the hearse paused in front of the fire hall.
“There’s going to be a big hole in not just our department, but all the area departments as well,” River Falls Fire Chief Scott Nelson said. “He was a classic; a second generation firefighter with over 30 years with the department, and we’re going to miss him deeply.”
Fellow firefighter Pauly Cudd said Nicholson was the department’s go-to guy when it came to maintaining its equipment.
“When something needed fixing we’d lean on Eddie,” Cudd said. “He was the go-to guy on figuring out accidents and using airbags and extrication equipment and how to do things. And he was a genuine guy. You always knew where Eddie was coming from, there was no B.S.”
In addition to being “a tow-truck driver extraordinaire,” according to Cudd, Nicholson also enjoyed his time working at Cedar Lake Speedway.
“That was one of his main loves,” Cudd said. “He worked at play, but he played at work because he loved everything that he did.”
Nelson described Nicholson as an “unofficial leader” of the department.
“He loved his trucks and he loved our fire trucks,” Nelson said. “And this today was a fitting tribute to all of the things that he loved in life. He loved his EMS, he loved his fire department, and he loved his community. And they came out in droves today, and thank God they did that.”
Cedar Lake Speedway posted a statement on its website Saturday.
“Cedar Lake Speedway is mourning the loss of a long time member of our racing family. Eddie Nicholson died from injuries sustained while clearing the track of an incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family during this very difficult time. Thanks to all of the emergency personnel that responded Friday night. Eddie will be greatly missed.”
The incident is now under investigation by the sheriff's office, medical examiners and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.