As a crowd of bystanders quickly gathered, a couple of them crawled under an SUV that had run over and pinned 65-year-old Kenneth Burke at a Woodbury gas station Wednesday morning.

There was little that the shaken good Samaritans could do in those desperate seconds, except offer kind words and a sweat shirt as Burke lay trapped and critically injured.

The bystanders tried to keep him awake and talking as the wailing sirens drew closer, a witness said.

Burke, who had been walking with a cane, sustained a head injury, and a leg snapped as it was caught between the top of the front passenger tire and the wheel well, police said.

A Ford Excursion ran over Burke, of Little Canada, at the SuperAmerica on Norma Lane off County Road 19 and Interstate 94. People rushed from the store, from nearby gas pumps and from other vehicles to help.

Among them was a Bay City, Wis., woman who crawled under the SUV to comfort the man with encouraging words and her sweat shirt, which was left behind, bloodied.

"Everybody ran to help," said her friend, Jenni Meyer, also of Bay City.

Police got the call at 10:14 a.m. Within minutes, firetrucks, ambulance and police cruisers filled the parking lot. Those first responders had to quickly decide how to lift the Excursion, which weighs more than 7,000 pounds.

They tucked an extrication tool called the Jaws of Life and airbags under the vehicle and deployed the airbags to lift, Fire Cmdr. John Wallgren said. Burke was conscious and talking as they extricated him, Wallgren said.

Burke was in critical condition Wednesday night at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

His wife, Dianne Burke, who was sitting in a car near the pump where her husband had just gotten gas, told others at the scene that he was recovering from a stroke, and that's why he was walking with a cane.

At the SuperAmerica, police cordoned off the store with yellow police tape as the SUV driver, Michael Carroll, 47, of Woodbury, stood nearby. He said that the lanes had been full as he drove through the lot and that he didn't see Burke walking from the pumps to the station.

Carroll said that he thought perhaps Burke was below his sight line but also that he was looking around the gas station lot because it was busy.

"All of a sudden," he said, "I heard a noise and another gentleman ran over and said, 'Stop!'"

Police Cmdr. Jay Alberio said Carroll is not likely to be charged. Woodbury police, along with the State Patrol, are investigating.

Police Sgt. Sue McMahon noted how "the wonderful people of Woodbury" had rushed to help a stranger, even risking their own welfare to crawl under the SUV to offer comfort.

"Our hats off to the people who showed their kindness to others," she said.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038