Tim Maroney’s pickup finally came to a stop between a guard rail and a traffic jam on I-35 near Faribault.
It was Aug. 13, 2016, and the Grant resident and co-owner of Maroney’s Sanitation was driving to Iowa with his girlfriend, to help his daughter move into college.
He’d swerved in time to avoid hitting his daughter, who was driving just ahead of him, but several cars behind Maroney were involved in a serious crash.
Leaving his truck on the side of the interstate, he went to check on his daughter. She was safe, but others weren’t as lucky. Maroney sprang into action.
“When I got back there, the two vehicles that had collided the hardest were on fire,” Maroney said. “I heard somebody yell that there’s people still in that car. I immediately ran over to the car. There was another guy with me, and the two people in the Sorento were unconscious, and the car was completely in flames.”
Maroney found a man and a woman still in the vehicle. He tried unsuccessfully to open the door, so the man with him broke a window, Maroney said, and they pulled the woman to safety.
Running to other side of the vehicle, Maroney cut the man’s seatbelt with a knife and attempted to pull him through the window, but the victim’s legs were pinned.
The scene was terrifying. Maroney remembers gas dripping from the vehicle’s tank near him and someone shouting that the vehicle was going to explode. He said the vehicle’s tires did explode and “every time a tire exploded, it kind of made you jump.”
Maroney doesn’t know how long he was there.
“You lose track of time,” he said. “I pulled on this guy with everything I had, but his legs we just pinned in there. I got him out about as far as his waist.”
When emergency personnel arrived, they attempted to help pull the man out and used fire extinguishers to keep the fire from spreading to the victim.
According to the State Patrol, Albert Lea resident Joshua Schipper had a pressure washer in his truck and used it to spray the victim with water to keep him cool.
“The fast actions of the officers and citizens, and their unselfishness working in hellacious smoke conditions, saved the driver’s life at the scene,” a document from the State Patrol states. “Unfortunately he succumbed to his injuries the following day. The responders all suffered smoke inhalation while trying to save and rescue the driver. But, above all, they disregarded their own safety in an effort to save the life of another.”
When the chaos subsided and the helicopters left the highway, Maroney returned to his truck and resumed the trip.
“I barely remember driving down to Iowa after that,” he said.
The State Patrol gave Maroney a Meritorious Citizenship award Feb. 9.
Although Maroney appreciates the award from the State Patrol, he doesn’t often tell the story of that day, because it’s reliving a tragic moment. It took him some time to come to grips with the fact that the man died.
“You replay it over and over again in your head a million times, trying to think if you could’ve done something different,” he said. “I’ve moved on, but it’ll take a long time to not think about it.”
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]