St. Paul's superhuman hero in blue

Chief John Harrington, Michael McGinn
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St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington honored 27 police officers with the department’s Life Saving Award including officer Michael McGinn who lifted a 300 lbs engine off a car accident victim. McGinn won a second Life Saving Award for helping prevent a suicide attempt.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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He had 10 stories to tell, each a detailed account of risks taken by his officers to save lives, and when it came to the ninth, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington still could only marvel at it all.

The scene was of an accident, the chief recalled Monday, and of an officer, Michael McGinn, who had arrived to find that a car had crashed into a tree, and been torn in two, with a smoking hot engine lying on the driver's chest and head.

McGinn, the son of a retired St. Paul cop, was patrolling alone at the time, Harrington said. But he slipped on his gloves, picked up the 300-pound engine and he slid it off the victim.

Said the chief to the officer: "I still can't believe you could do this."

On Monday, McGinn was one of 24 officers honored with the department's first life-saving awards, created to recognize officers who had saved lives under circumstances where heroism and the potential risk of their own lives were required.

In Harrington's view, it had to be adrenaline that powered McGinn's heroic act that night of May 10, 2008, on the city's West Side.

McGinn, asked to explain it after he collected his medal Monday, said: "All I can say is this: It was what was needed to be done at the time. It's nothing you can calculate. It's 'oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I have to get this off this person.' "

He remembers, too, he said, trying to lift the engine again after a tow truck operator arrived early that morning to carry away the pieces, and realizing then, "It was pretty heavy."

"I thought, 'Never mind. He's got a winch,' " McGinn said.

Putting lives on line

McGinn, whose father, Mike McGinn, is the current U.S. marshal in Minnesota, was on the midnight shift when he encountered about 50 cars clustered in an industrial area near State Street and Plato Boulevard. They were street racers, he said. He turned on his lights to get them to mve along.

For no apparent reason, or perhaps just to show off, McGinn said, the driver of a Honda Civic suddenly peeled off down Plato Boulevard, forcing the officer to try to weave through the parked cars to catch up.

McGinn said that he saw the Civic go through a red light at Robert Street, and an SUV slam on its brakes. Still, he thought, no problem, McGinn recalled Monday, "if I see him at Wabasha Street, I'll talk to him then."

To the west of Robert Street, however, he saw debris next to a tree. McGinn got out of his squad car, struggling all the while to see in the dark, and he found the driver under the engine about 20 feet from the tree.

McGinn dispensed with the engine, and tried to keep the driver calm and awake. He heard the crackling of the victim's ribs when he breathed in, and gurgling sounds when he breathed out.

Paramedics arrived in a matter of minutes.

McGinn said Monday that he has no idea what's become of the victim. But he was certain, he added, that "his life has been changed."

In addition to being honored for his actions at the West Side accident, McGinn also collected a second life-saving medal Monday for having joined three other officers -- Francisco Molina, John Corcoran and Gerald Carter -- in preventing a man from jumping off the Wabasha Bridge in January 2008.

They and the other award recipients Monday represented a mix of veterans and newcomers. Five were "legacy officers," Harrington said, that is, the children of past city cops. Each recipient, he said, exemplified the department's values of commitment, compassion and courage.

Concluded the chief: "They are truly St. Paul's finest."

During Monday's award ceremony, the department also honored:

Sgt. Kevin Moore -- for talking a suicidal woman into coming back over the railing on the Smith Avenue High Bridge and securing her until assistance arrived. The incident occurred March 23, while Moore was working as a detective, Harrington said.

Officer Michael Johnson (now retired) -- for preventing the suicide in September 2006 of a man who had been drinking and was armed with a shotgun. Johnson was able to sneak up on the man, tackle him and disarm him.

Officers Anthony Holte and John Thomas -- for preventing the suicide in September 2006 of a woman on a ledge near the former  Ramsey County jail. The officers were able to climb over the railing and secure the woman, who was perched more than 200 feet above a parking lot.

Officers David Quast, James McKnight, Charles Anderson and Matthew Sweeney -- working as a team on June 7, 2008, the officers were able to prevent the suicide of a man on the Smith Avenue High Bridge. They restrained the "large combative male," pulling him back over the railing to safety. He'd been on a ledge that was a "scant six inches wide," Harrington said.

Officers William Beaudette, Amy Boyer, Kathleen O'Reilly, Edward Dion and Jesse Mollner -- working as a team on May 25, 2008, the officers were able to prevent the suicide of a woman who was holding a knife to her chest. She already had cut herself and continued to apply pressure to her chest. Even though officers are trained to stay 21 feet from people with knives, the chief said, they talked to the woman and waited for an opportunity to move in and restrain her.

Officers John Buchmeier, Patrick Murphy and Jeremy Ryan -- for preventing the suicide of a woman who jumped into the Mississippi River in sub-zero weather on Dec. 12, 2008. Working as a team, the K-9 officers tied their dog leads together and were able to talk the woman into securing herself with the leads. That prevented her from drifting away, and falling victim to hypothermia, Harrington said.

Officers Joshua Lynaugh and Daniel Ficcadenti -- for rescuing a man who had been severely beaten and left to drown in the Mississippi River on the night of July 1, 2008. The officers held onto the large man, who continued to struggle until assistance arrived. "Can you imagine?" Harrington said Monday. "Pitch black. The Mississippi River (flowing) fast."

Officers Jeffry Lewis and Christopher McGuire -- responded to an apartment fire in a four-plex in October 2006, and helped evacuate three apartments in the building. When nobody answered in the fourth unit, they opened the door and heard a man calling. Working as a team in the smoke-filled room, the officers patted the ground as they made their way through the apartment, and finally made physical contact with the man, whom they pulled to safety.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109

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Chief John Harrington, Michael McGinn