Barely two hours after learning that one of his best friends, Trevor Zens, had died in a predawn motorcycle crash, Nick Best sent him a farewell text message.
“I know you can’t read this buddy,” Best wrote the morning of July 25 as he sat outside the Farmington home where Zens’ former girlfriend, Melony Schmitz, and their two daughters lived. “I’ll take care of your family forever. We will meet again on the streets of heaven.”
What happened next drained the color from Best’s face.
Zens wasn’t dead. In fact, he was about to go to bat at a Saturday morning softball game in Crystal when he received Best’s message and texted him back.
“What??” Zens wrote, before Best called Zens to confirm that he was, indeed, alive.
In a case of mistaken identity, the man who died on County Road 46 in Lakeville was actually 29-year-old Jacob Lindholm, a close friend to both Zens and Best. Lindholm, of Lakeville, apparently borrowed Zens’ motorcycle earlier that morning after they partied at a friend’s house in Eagan.
The mix-up occurred when police were unable to find a photo ID at the crash scene. Lindholm had been clad only in boxer shorts and shoes and was not wearing a helmet as he drove Zens’ motorcycle.
After running the motorcycle’s registration, police pulled up Zens’ name and the address where Schmitz lived with their children. Police then drove to Schmitz’s home to break the news.
Later that morning, a tearful Schmitz learned Zens was OK when she heard his voice on the other end of Best’s phone.
“It was just a rough day,” Zens said.
Lakeville Police Chief Jeff Long said such mix-ups are rare. Typically, there is something near the body to help authorities identify the victim, he said.
Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, whose office is in charge of making the official identification, agreed.
“Most people who die, die in a location they’re expected to be in anyway,” Baker said. The body is viewable and some form of identification is nearby, he continued. “Those are the easy cases.”
The impact of Lindholm’s crash and the absence of a photo ID made his case one of the difficult ones.
Long said that there was also nothing from the police conversation later that morning with Schmitz to make them think anyone but Zens was the victim.
Schmitz, who remains close to Zens, called Best soon after talking with police. After learning Zens was still alive, Best helped the medical examiner identify Lindholm based on the description of a bright blue squid tattoo on his left arm.
“Two of my best friends died today and one of them I’m getting back,” Best said he later told a friend.
While Best and Schmitz said they were frustrated by the initial confusion, Schmitz said that it was a relief that she didn’t have to break bad news to her children.
Looking back, Long said officers could have better emphasized that Zens’ death had yet to be confirmed. Schmitz said they did tell her that the medical examiner would be making the official identification.
Jerry Lindholm, Jake’s father, said he learned about his son’s death late in the morning of July 25. By then, a large group of friends had gathered at the home of his son’s girlfriend.
Lindholm said hundreds of friends later turned out for a memorial at the crash site and a subsequent wake for his son, whom Best said had “more friends than anybody I had met in my life.”
“It’s amazing how much they’re missing him already,” Jerry Lindholm said.
Schmitz, who attended the memorial, said the mix-up was hard to shake. Even then, she said, a part of her felt like Zens was the man being mourned.
“It was like the worst and best day of my life,” she said. “The three hours I thought he was dead felt like my world had been shattered.”
Stephen Montemayor • 952-746-3282