Two passersby took hammers to a burning SUV, and with less than a minute to spare, they yanked free an unconscious motorist pinned inside the mangled wreckage just north of the Twin Cities.
Rob Pascavage, a 51-year-old husband and father of four, was whisked in an air ambulance from the site where he crashed into a tree east of Stacy late Wednesday afternoon and flown to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he's recovering after surgery for broken leg bones and fractured ribs, said his wife, Cathie Pascavage.
"I heard he was unconscious at the scene," she said Thursday. "He wasn't coherent at all. He could not have got himself out of that car. … There is nothing left. It's all burned."
Jesse Mishler and Tom Taylor "were very brave to rush to a burning car," she said. "They are just angels to me. I owe them my world."
Chisago County sheriff's deputy Scott Finnegan, who responded to the crash, said, "Another 30 seconds and we would have been talking about a different outcome."
Rob Pascavage had just said goodbye to his wife and was on his way to pick up missionaries and take them to their church in North Branch, when his SUV inexplicably sped off the road and ended up in the grass more than 400 feet from the shoulder.
Mishler and Taylor, two 35-year-olds who live in the area, were out enjoying nature with youngsters on an ideal summer afternoon when they saw the fiery full-speed impact from their vehicles.
Taylor, who had his girlfriend's 11-year-son with him after a no-luck fishing outing at the dam, was about to pull onto Stacy Trail. "I saw him coming down the road at an incredible rate of speed," Taylor said. "I put it in reverse. He hit the tree before he got to us."
Taylor tossed his cellphone to his fishing partner, told him to call 911 and ran to the smoking wreckage.
For Mishler, who was scouting for turtle nests at the Stacy Dam with his 2- and 4-year-old daughters, "it was straight adrenaline. I wasn't about to sit there and see someone burn alive in their vehicle."
Both men grabbed hammers from their vehicles and raced to the crumpled SUV. A third man took a golf club to some of the windows, Mishler said.
"I couldn't get the seat belt unbuckled," said Mishler, who also had to fend off the deployed air bags surrounding Pascavage.
All the while, the flames were growing down by Pascavage's legs, he said. "He was not responsive. I'm thinking, 'This guy is gonna die.' "
Joined by Taylor, they clawed at the door and the frame "until it started to bend down," Mishler said. "We folded the door down, and I jumped on the door. … I can't believe we got that thing bent down."
Once the space was big enough, the two of them "yanked and pulled as much as we could and got him out and dragged him away from the car."
Taylor said the entire effort to get Pascavage out lasted no more than two, maybe three, minutes while "the whole inside was on fire. We had explosions. It was crazy. I just gave it everything."
He said he coughed on smoke and came away with "a few cuts and scrapes on my arms and stuff. … But that was nothing to be concerned about compared to that guy."
Said Mishler, whose pants leg was singed, "It was all about saving that man's life."