A motorist dashed out of his warm pickup truck on a west metro highway into the bone-chilling cold Monday afternoon, did a “baseball slide” down a snowy embankment to rescue a driver whose box truck plunged into the icy Crow River.
The spontaneous drama unfolded on and beneath Hwy. 101 in Rogers, the State Patrol said.
Patrol Lt. Jill Frankfurth said the 25-year-old truck driver was heading north on Hwy. 101 about 3:15 p.m. when he “struck the right guardrail and sign, veered to the left, striking the left guardrail and launching down into the river.”
Frankfurth described a 46-year-old man from Otsego as “a good Samaritan [who] assisted the male driver out of the vehicle.”
The National Weather Service said the air temperature was 0 degrees at that time in western Hennepin County.
Christopher Kirk was the first of several vehicle occupants who parked on the shoulders and clambered down toward the river in an effort to help James Nahl, of Fridley, whose vehicle landed on its wheels with the cab only partly above the surface.
Kirk said Tuesday he was in his pickup when he saw the box truck “launch straight up into the air” and over the railing. He called 911, then “did a baseball slide on the snow and everything. Running down there would have been kind of dumb.”
He arrived to see the driver pinned in the cab with his seat belt still on.
“His left shoulder and head were in the water,” Kirk recalled, giving little thought to his own well-being. “I saw someone who was on the border or the edge of dying. … I’m just gonna help get this guy out.”
Standing up to his waist in the frigid water, Kirk felt the current moving as he saw the driver “facing to the right to get his mouth out of the water.”
Kirk said that with what strength he had, combined with what the driver could muster, “we were able to get him onto the flatbed” behind the cab, now exposed with the box gone from the impact.
“I asked him if he was OK,” Kirk said. Once getting an affirmative response, Kirk recalled saying, ” ‘Let’s get the hell out of here.’ “
As the two started their ascent, other good Samaritans had made their way down and helped the driver back to the highway.
Nahl, his vehicle’s only occupant, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of what the lieutenant described as minor injuries, the patrol said.
A trooper asked Kirk to stay at the scene. “I said that’s fine,” Kirk said, but I’m going to wait in my truck. I turned up the butt warmers and turned up the heat.”
Kirk said that when he relayed what happened to his wife, “she says I deserve an award for being a hero and deserve an award for being an idiot. … I’m not a great swimmer.”