Ed Domain Is Still Standing

An Arch Grant brought him to town. A terrible taxi ride almost destroyed him

Ed Domain came to St. Louis after winning an Arch Grant. He left on far less celebratory terms.
Ed Domain came to St. Louis after winning an Arch Grant. He left on far less celebratory terms. PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY

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Domain with Mayor Francis Slay and Aaron Perlut at Startup Voodoo, sort of a South by Southwest for St. Louis. - COURTESY OF STARTUP VOODOO
Domain with Mayor Francis Slay and Aaron Perlut at Startup Voodoo, sort of a South by Southwest for St. Louis.

The struggle to be noticed was not solely a matter of vanity — although there were certainly elements of that. Media coverage was also an opportunity to attract the attention of the venture capitalists whose investments can mean life or death for young companies.

In the quest to be seen, Domain quickly emerged as an ally. He profiled both established and up-and-coming stars of the St. Louis scene with genuine enthusiasm for their ideas. And unlike the city's print and television journalists, they recognized Domain as one of their own. He had an office alongside other startups in the old T-REX business incubator downtown, and he kept the same crazy hours, popping in during the middle of the night to work when he couldn't sleep.

"The joke is that you can work any fifteen hours of the day," he says.

His excitement expanded beyond even the website. He and Perlut made plans to launch an innovation-focused event called Startup Voodoo, modeled after Austin's South by Southwest. He had even begun recording a talk show "The Domain Tech Report." In the pilot, he danced onto the set alongside a beautiful, dark-haired woman — a friend who'd agreed to play along — spun her theatrically and leaned in for a stage kiss before settling down to begin an interview with LockerDome CEO and co-founder Gabe Lozano.

"When you talk to that guy, you get excited," Lozano, who now counts Domain as a friend, tells the Riverfront Times. "It's hard not to get excited."

Less than a year after arriving, Domain had become a man to know in St. Louis' entrepreneurial world, showing up at conferences and mixers all over town. He was headed to a Cinco de Mayo party hosted by GlobalHack executive director Matt Menietti on May 4, 2013, when he called Harris Cab for a ride.

The blue minivan arrived shortly after, and Domain climbed inside with two friends visiting from out of town, texting Menietti from the road.

"We're in the cab," Domain wrote. "Be there in a few minutes."

The collision of a full-sized van slamming headlong into the flank of the taxicab must have made a terrible sound, but Domain doesn't remember it.

In the last seconds of his life as a healthy man, he recalls the cab driver looking up from his phone as they cruised right through a red light. The man spoke a single word: "Oh."

Domain followed the driver's eyes to his right just as the van hit. The sensation was more of a feeling than a sound, like a shock. An explosion of glass, metal and plastic sprayed across the intersection of Russell Boulevard and Gravois Avenue. Domain and his friends must have been flung from their seats, but any glimpse of how that happened is lost to time. One moment they were riding toward a party, and the next they were in a heap, bleeding and confused. His friend Danyelle Michelini was crumpled on her knees. Domain landed on her back. His left foot was wrenched behind him and caught under one of the seats.

"I said, 'I think my leg is broken,'" he recalls. "That was my hip shattering."

Michelini's ribs snapped and punctured her lung. Domain, who was seated next to the sliding door, took a direct hit. His pelvis was nearly destroyed and his left hip so thoroughly mangled that his femur had broken loose at the top end and was floating around in his thigh. Doctors would later chronicle serious injuries to his left knee, neck, chest, back and head. His nose was broken. His right shoulder was torn to pieces, and the brachial artery in his right arm was severed, bloating his arm with blood and injuring it so terribly surgeons would later consider amputation.

The third friend suffered only minor injuries, but Domain and Michelini were loaded into an ambulance and rushed to the hospital. He remembers asking the EMTs to check on Michelini only to hear her call out from his side, "I'm here. I'm fine."

It's hard for him to sort out everything that happened that day. His mind was fogging over in the shock and trauma, but he clearly remembers an EMT asking if there was a pastor or someone they should call.

"That really got through all the fuzz in my thinking," Domain says today.

"Am I going to die?" he asked.

"Not if we can help it," the EMT replied.

"Good," he told them, "because I don't plan on dying today."

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