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Willmar police chief commends five for saving the life of man trapped under ATV

Jed Watje probably would have died last week when he was pinned under an all-terrain vehicle. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

WILLMAR -- Willmar Police Chief David Wyffels has commended five individuals for rescuing a Willmar man who probably would have died from injuries suffered last week when he was pinned and lay bleeding under an all-terrain vehicle.

In letters to the individuals, Wyffels said the actions of Michele Ward, Janet Gunderson, Cheryl Baumgartner, Andrew Kodet and Tony Halls in lifting the heavy ATV off 35-year-old Jed Watje in the driveway of his home last week literally saved Watje's life.

"I believe that you displayed civic qualities that you are to be commended for,'' Wyffels wrote.

The accident happened at about 10:48 a.m. on Nov. 21 when Watje was moving from 909 17th St. S.E. to his new residence on West Norway Lake. Watje was driving the ATV up a ramp onto a pickup truck. The ATV was the last thing to be moved.

He got the front wheels up on the tailgate when the ramp gave way, causing the ATV to flip backward with the handlebars pinning him across his face on the driveway.

"I couldn't budge it. I tried to scream and my throat kept filling up with blood. I couldn't spit it out. I couldn't move. It felt like forever. I screamed as much as I could,'' said Watje, who was treated at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Ward initiated the rescue. She lives one block from Watje and had never met him. While driving home, she saw an ATV that appeared to have a person lying under it. Wyffels said the scene could have easily been interpreted as a person lying on a sidewalk performing mechanical repairs, but Ward's close attention to detail caused her to stop and determine that the person was actually trapped under a machine weighing more than 450 pounds.

"When I came around the corner (from Olena Avenue), I knew I had to stop,'' Ward said.

Wyffels said police investigation determined that had Ward not noticed the victim or his predicament, the chance of him surviving would have been nonexistent.

Wyffels said the victim had already lost a large amount of blood and is estimated to have been lying on the frozen sidewalk for at least half an hour.

"He wanted me to lift it off and I said I can't,'' Ward said.

She tried calling 911 but the call didn't go through due to operator error. Then she flagged down neighbor Janet Gunderson who was coming home from shopping. They also flagged down Baumgartner and enlisted the help of Kodet and Halls, who were driving a Hennen Furniture truck.

Lifting the ATV was not difficult, said Gunderson, because the Hennen workers "were pretty big guys.'' Watje crawled out on his own, started shaking and the Hennen workers placed a furniture throw over him.

Gunderson said Watje could talk.

"He said thank you. To me that was good, him being able to say it,'' Gunderson said.

Watje said he could hear everyone but couldn't see their faces due to his injuries. He remembers being cold and being taken by Willmar Ambulance to Rice Hospital and then to HCMC where he had surgery for a broken facial bone and received more than 200 stitches.

A grateful Watje returned to Willmar at night on Thanksgiving Day.

"If it hadn't been for those people, I wouldn't be here today to talk about it,'' he said. "It's amazing how many good people there really are out there. People are so willing to help and they'll drop everything to save somebody else.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150