David Jensen did just what he was supposed to Sunday night when he wanted to send a text: He pulled his SUV off the dark highway north of Grand Forks, N.D., and turned on his flashers.
But as the 25-year-old tapped out a message to his girlfriend to see if he need to pick anything up on his way home, a car coming the other way veered across a lane and struck his vehicle head-on.
“It felt like it was slow motion,” Jensen said Monday. “There was nothing I could do.”
Jensen, his face bloodied and arms burned from his air bag, raced to the other vehicle. Flames were coming out of the hood. The driver’s door was jammed. He could see the driver was passed out.
He immediately called his father, the fire chief of nearby Alvarado, Minn.: “Call 911,” he recalled saying. “I’m trying to pull her out.”
Jensen said he started “kicking the door and yanking on it,” and by the time he forced it open, there were flames in the passenger area.
“I got the door open, undid her seat belt and dragged her 50, 60 feet from the vehicle,” he said. “Then it just blew — just engulfed itself.”
He checked her vital signs, but Jensen said flames from the car were chewing up the grass and marching toward the SUV he was borrowing from a friend.
“I had extra clothes [in the SUV] and started patting out the flames,” he said.
His father was the first to arrive at the scene, followed by law enforcement and medical personnel.
Tracy Ludwig, 49, of Fisher, Minn., has difficult days ahead as she recovers from the crash and also faces a drunken-driving allegation, but the North Dakota Highway Patrol said she can be grateful for Jensen’s quick action amid the chaos.
There’s no doubt, Highway Patrol Lt. Aaron Hummel said, Jensen saved her life while putting his own on the line.
“It was all pretty quick, by the size of it,” Hummel said. “By the time [officers] arrived, the car was completely engulfed in flames.”
Jensen, who grew up in nearby Mekinock, N.D., and lives in Grand Forks, came away with minor injuries and a remarkable story of a lifetime from the collision off Hwy. 11, just south of where the two-lane blacktop curves west.
Ludwig is recovering and was in satisfactory condition Monday afternoon at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.
“I wasn’t trying to be a hero,” said Jensen, who was a little sore but still reported for work at 7 a.m. Monday, putting up Sheetrock. “But we didn’t need no one dying over it.”
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482