Three days out of rookie academy, Minnesota State Trooper Shaun Leshovsky was sitting in his training officer’s squad car on an Interstate 94 ramp in Minneapolis last May filling out a routine accident report when a motorist stopped with the news of a bad crash.
At the scene, a mother screamed for help. Her 3-year-old son’s head had smashed through a vehicle window, and he was in danger of bleeding to death.
Leshovsky was so new on the job he didn’t even know where the first-aid kit was kept. As his partner extracted another victim, he found gauze and used a shirt to swaddle the boy’s head wound until paramedics arrived.
After weeks in the hospital, the child recovered.
“This was pretty much one of my biggest fears — that you work on a little kid and they don’t make it because you made a wrong decision,” Leshovsky said. As for his actions, “I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. I was doing my job and taking care of what was in front of me.”
Leshovsky was among 30 people — troopers and other State Patrol employees, as well as citizens — honored for heroism or extraordinary public-service work Monday at the patrol’s annual awards ceremony. While their stories ranged from the dramatic to the quietly heroic, the honorees had an overriding quality in common: a willingness to put the safety and needs of others before their own.
Citizen Robert Renning used his bare hands to bend the door of a burning car to free a motorist. Joe Dellwo was named trooper of the year for his untiring work in safe-driving communication. Sgt. Calvin Michaels rescued a 4-year-old girl locked inside an old refrigerator. Lt. Brad Bordwell saved a woman from near-death after an adverse reaction to heart medication. Other troopers, 911 operators and citizens plucked people from floodwaters, prevented suicides and improved crucial highway inspections.
Honoree David Baxley was driving to work on a foggy morning in Kimball, Minn., last October when he braked for vehicle debris scattered across the road. There had just been a two-vehicle accident, and Baxley found a screaming young man trapped in an upside-down van. Gas was spewing in the air.
Baxley cut the man out of his seat belt and dragged him away from the van. Moments later, it was engulfed in flames. He and another passerby then went to try to help the woman in the other vehicle, but she had died.
Baxley, 28, who works at Camp Ripley near Little Falls, was understated Monday about his actions. “You don’t expect to get an award for doing something like this,” he said.
Going ‘beyond yourself’
Leshovsky and Shaun Stang, who graduated with the same State Patrol academy class, took different paths to law enforcement. Leshovsky, 33, a longtime National Guard member who served in Kosovo, was a supervisor in the medical machinery industry for about a dozen years before he felt a drive to leave the corporate world and “do something to help people beyond yourself.”
Stang, 27, couldn’t tell you why or how he decided to be an officer. But his great-grandfather was a cop, and his father runs the emergency medical service in Paynesville. He said he’s always been around public service and speculated his career choice was a calling.
Stang and Kanabec County Deputy Mark Schafer were honored for their heroism in responding last October to a report of a vehicle in a lake in Mora. A frantic woman was sitting on the roof of a nearly submerged sport-utility vehicle, holding her infant in a car seat. Her 2-year-old son was still strapped inside the vehicle.
Stang and Schafer took off their duty belts and plunged into the deep, frigid water. Stang grabbed the baby in the car seat and swam on his back like an otter, with the baby on his chest. On shore, he handed the baby off to paramedics and returned to help the frantic mother to safety.
Schafer tried to reach the little boy inside the SUV, but had no luck and was feeling the effects of the cold water. Eventually, first responders hooked the vehicle to a tow cable and turned the SUV on its side, allowing them to reach the toddler, Stang said.
More than 30 minutes had passed since Stang and Schafer responded to the initial call. The boy’s body temperature had plunged to around 81 degrees. Stang assumed he would die. “He was lifeless, blue and cold,” he said.
He was rushed to a Twin Cities hospital, and within a week had made an astounding complete recovery.
Stang and Schafer said the fact that they previously worked together at the Kanabec County Sheriff’s Office and knew each other well may have saved the boy’s life.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do, but we had to do something,” Stang said. “It was dark, and the water was murky. It could have been a recovery mission instead of a rescue effort.”
Stang said he knew Schafer was usually cool under pressure. But Schafer has a couple of small children and “just had a look on his face” when it appeared they had run out of options to save the child, Stang said.
“No training prepares you for something like this,” Stang said. “Any trooper or cop or anybody with a heart would have been hard-pressed not to act. The award was humbling, but the biggest award was finding out the kids were OK.”