Community gathers for 'Carter's Cruise' to remember 9-year-old killed in ATV crash

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The parade of fire trucks, pickups and flag-draped ATVs appeared endless. 

Indeed, it seemed the whole of Randolph turned out Wednesday night in a tribute of love to 9-year-old Carter Nicolai. 

"Carter would love this, he would really love what they're doing," said Caryn Riley, his aunt. "The impact he had on this community, this small town, is unreal."

Along the parade route down Cynthia Path, among the dozens who gathered to watch, there was an empty chair — placed there for Carter — candles, and tears. 

9-year-old boy dead after ATV crash in Dakota County

This small community was shaken to the core with the news that he had died Tuesday, just a block from his house. 

Around 6:30 p.m., the  9-year-old was riding a miniature ATV over some dirt piles in an open lot when it rolled over. 

Arriving emergency personnel tried lifesaving efforts, but Carter was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Among his family and friends, there is shock and disbelief. 

"He's a survivor and the family is just very devastated, obviously, and going through a lot," said Casi Otte, a family friend. "After everything that happened with him five years ago, this hits home with everybody in the community."

In 2014, Carter was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a form of leukemia.

He spent months in the hospital, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. 

The community rallied around Carter.

"We were all tested for bone marrow, whether or not we could be a donor for him," Otte said

Then, in 2015, there was a medical miracle.

A Swiss woman in her twenties turned out to be a bone marrow match for Carter.

A one in eight-million chance, doctors told his family. 

"He got the transplant, and he's been a healthy, active farm boy ever since," Otte says. 

Post-transplant, Carter grew into a loving, active boy, with a passion for anything mechanical.

"Loved machinery, loved equipment, loved farming with his dad riding along," said Kent Nicolai, Carter's uncle. "That's what he wanted to do when he grew up, he wanted to farm."

Carter's mother and father, Sandra and Brian, asked for privacy during this time. 

But during the parade, called 'Carter's Cruise,' they were surrounded by neighbors and friends.

At the end, residents released green balloons in the air. 

Family and friends are planning a social-distancing wake on Saturday, where mourners can pay respects from their cars. 

A memorial service is planned for Sunday. 

"During such a difficult time, there's a pandemic, and you can't just go and give somebody a hug and say we care about you," Otte says. "This is obviously one way we can show that we care as a community, and that we love them, and we're gathering around them to support them and lift them up."

For all of this, Riley says she and her family are thankful.

"We're all family here. That's what small towns are for. You grow up together, you live together, you love together," she says quietly. "Everybody should have a Carter in the life. Everybody should know how to love and live life like he did."