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Local citizens honored during ceremony for doing the right thing

Dorothy Benson, second right, grasps the "Saved By the Belt" award she received Monday for wearing her seatbelt in a June 16 crash at a Willmar intersection. Three others travelling with Benson were also honored. All four likely would have been seriously injured in the crash if they hadn't been buckled in, local law enforcement said. Also pictured is Marilee Dorn, crime prevention and community policing coordinator for the Willmar Police Department. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

When the woman rushed frantically down her driveway, crying that her husband was pinned beneath his car, Keith Friesen didn't have to think twice. He gave his cell phone to his wife and told her to call 911. Then he ran across the street to where the man was trapped under a vehicle that had fallen off a jack. Friesen lifted the front end of the car long enough for the man to crawl out.

"I just responded," he recalled Monday.

For his lifesaving actions on Aug. 7, Friesen was honored by the Willmar Police Department and Willmar Ambulance Service with an Award of Valor.

At a double ceremony Monday at Rice Memorial Hospital, four women -- all in their 80s -- also received a "Saved By the Belt" award for wearing their seatbelts, a measure that likely saved them from serious injury in a June 16 crash at a Willmar intersection.

Both stories could have ended in tragedy, local officials said.

Friesen, his wife, Priscilla, and their 13-year-old son, Mitchell, had just arrived at the Church of the Nazarene that Saturday evening to mow the lawn when the woman came running down the driveway across the street.

By a stroke of chance, it wasn't even the Friesens' usual day to mow the lawn; they normally cut the grass on Thursday or Friday.

Friesen didn't hesitate to help, said Brad Hanson, operations manager of the Willmar Ambulance Service.

"It's not often that we have a citizen who's able to step up to the plate," he said.

The man had removed the left front wheel of the car and crawled underneath to change the starter when the vehicle slipped off the jack, Hanson said. Trapped sideways under the full weight of the vehicle, the man was unable to move and might not have survived without Friesen's quick action, he said.

"It wouldn't have taken long for this person to not be breathing," Hanson said.

The man suffered some lacerations to his arm and was treated at Rice Memorial Hospital's emergency room but was otherwise unhurt, Hanson said. "He was lucky."

"We just did our thing, is all," Friesen said.

Dave Wyffels, Willmar chief of police, said the event underscores the importance of citizen involvement.

Without the public's willingness to help, "we couldn't do our job," he said. "We're forever grateful for you being involved."

The seatbelt award to Dorothy Benson, Lorraine Johnson, Arlyne Morgan and Ruby Watson stems from a crash at the intersection of Fifth Street and Kandiyohi Avenue on June 16. The four women, all in their 80s, were on their way home from a funeral when another driver pulled out in front of them.

The crash was severe enough to total the car, said Marilee Dorn, crime prevention and community policing coordinator for the Willmar Police Department.

"Our officers know when they go to crashes involving elderly people, frequently they involve life-changing or life-ending injuries," she said.

In this case, all four women were wearing their seatbelts and received only minor bumps and bruises, she said. The other driver, age 91, also was wearing a seatbelt and was unhurt.

"Everybody walked away from that crash," Dorn said. "We truly do appreciate when people take the proper steps to protect themselves."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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