WILLMAR -- Twice each week when he drives past the intersection of 300th Street and State Highway 4 north of Grove City, Aaron Cain of Willmar says he feels a sense of gratitude for his life and the life of the man he pulled from a burning truck at the site.
"I'm thankful to be here, and for him to be here too," Cain said.
"According to the first responders, neither of us should be here today."
On Oct. 13, 2011, Cain was southbound on Highway 4 in a West Central Sanitation truck.
He was on his way back to Willmar after bringing a load of recycling to Silver Creek.
A Peterbilt semi truck driven by Jerry Weseman of Grove City pulled across the highway in front of him.
Cain tried to avoid the collision, but struck Weseman's truck behind the cab. What Cain did next is why he's being honored today with a meritorious citizenship award at the Minnesota State Patrol's annual awards ceremony in Eagan.
"I was walking up the ditch to the road," Cain explained. He'd gotten out of his truck, walked away and then turned and looked at the mess, the two smashed trucks, in the ditch. "Then I thought of the other driver."
Cain went around one side of Weseman's truck, then the other side. A fire had started at the impact of the crash, and there were flames all around as he reached Weseman and pulled him out of the semi. The grain trailer and truck had jackknifed around the sanitation truck.
"As soon as I got him out, both trucks exploded," Cain said.
Weseman was airlifted from the scene, but has recovered from his injuries. Cain had a cracked rib and was stiff and sore for a while. His boss, Don Williamson, put Cain on light duty, and after learning of his heroic actions, suggested the State Patrol honor him.
"I was truly impressed," Williamson said of his five-year employee's actions. "It was very fortunate that he had the presence of mind to take action."
Cain says he was shocked when the State Patrol notified him with a letter that he'd be honored for his actions. "I didn't expect it," he said.
An awards committee voted on the nomination and selected Cain for the award. He and his wife, Nicole, and his parents, Pat and Corby, will attend the banquet.
The annual event honors citizens, state troopers and others who have performed life-saving acts or taken other actions to make the state's roads safer, according to the State Patrol's media site.
Cain continues to drive the same route for West Central, passing by the intersection on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He's more wary of other drivers after the crash.
"I don't consider myself to be (a hero)," Cain said. "I did what I needed to do. I thought about the other guy, and that he's probably got a family. I didn't want to just leave him there."