Brian Beuning had to work fast.
The swirling southwestern Minnesota floodwaters were rapidly rising around Julisa Jones’ car when Beuning, a state trooper, walked through the powerful current, pulled Jones through a car window and out of harm’s way.
Seconds later, Jones’ car was swept away.
On Monday, three months after the harrowing rescue, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund honored Beuning with its Officer of the Month Award, which is given to only 12 officers across the country each year.
“He exemplifies the best of the best of the Minnesota State Patrol,” Lt. Col. Matt Langer, acting chief of the State Patrol, said at a news conference Monday in St. Paul.
“He didn’t shy from his duty. He acted with courage and without fear with probably a little anxiety as he did his deed that day and was ultimately able to save that woman from being swept away in her vehicle.”
Despite the praise, Beuning said he just “got lucky.”
“It’s part of the job,” he said. “Anybody would do it if they came into that situation.”
Beuning’s heroics played out June 16 when he responded to an emergency call from a woman who was trapped in a car near the town of Beaver Creek, Minn., in the southwest corner of the state.
The woman had been driving through a flooded area of Interstate 90 when surging floodwaters caused her to lose control of her rental car and drift into a ditch.
Once Beuning arrived, he waded into the knee-deep water and instructed Jones to pull the emergency brake and try to get out of the car through a rear window. Seconds after Beuning pulled Jones from the car, floodwaters pushed it into a waterlogged cornfield.
Even though Beuning had hold of Jones, the current was too strong for them to get out of the floodwaters by themselves. For 45 minutes Beuning held on to Jones waiting for help to arrive.
“I kept feeling I think it was cornstalks hitting the back of my legs and I kept thinking … when is that tree coming or when’s the debris coming because that would have knocked our feet out from underneath us,” Beuning recalled Monday.
One of the things that kept him going, Beuning said, was thinking about his 2-year-old son, Max. As Jones, the mother of a 3-year-old girl, began to lose hope, he kept reminding her that they were “going to do this for our kids.”
Jones tweeted within hours of her rescue: “All I could think about was my daughter growing up without me.”
After 45 minutes, two firefighters in water rescue suits arrived, put life jackets on Beuning and Jones, and secured them by rope to a semitrailer truck before they all slowly walked to safety.
Beuning’s wife, Ginger, who attended the news conference Monday with their son and Beuning’s parents, said she had been out of town with her in-laws when she got the call from her husband’s partner telling her that Beuning was stuck in the water. That call, she said, was “overwhelming.”
After about 20 minutes, she said she received another call telling her that her husband was safe. A short time later, Beuning called laughing.
“Your mind always goes to the worst-case scenario,” she said.
The June rescue wasn’t Beuning’s first. In 2010, he helped to save a man who was sinking in a grain bin of corn. Beuning later received the Lifesaving Award from the State Patrol for his involvement in that rescue.
Said Langer, of the State Patrol: “Not only has he proven to be in the right place at the right time more than once in his career, but [Beuning] acts very quickly and makes good decisions, and people are alive because of that.”