COMFREY, Minn - The Brown County Sheriff's Office is applauding the actions of two good samaritans who pulled a Nebraska man from his burning van Sunday afternoon.
Deputies say Lance Johnson, 74, of Wymore, Neb., was driving south on 400th Avenue just after 5:30 p.m. on Sunday when his 1995 Mercury Villager hit a culvert, which damaged the engine.
The impact sparked a fire in the road ditch, where the van and surrounding dry grass went up in flames. Nick Rients was in his combine harvesting soybean fields when he saw pillars of smoke on the edge of the gravel road.
"It was up in flames so I put it into high gear and started coming across the field and called Stetson," said Rients, who said his friend, Stetson Schoen, was helping out by plowing in an adjacent field.
"I seen the man's leg hanging out the door," said Schoen. "I asked him if he was OK and he nodded his head, yes. He reached for his seatbelt. I cut his seatbelt off."
"We kept it at bay with the fire extinguishers," said Rients. "We kind of carried him and out away, laid him down to make sure he was OK."
Emergency crews soon arrived and an ambulance took Johnson to Regions Hospital in St. Paul where he is in serious condition in the burn center. Johnson's van is a total loss.
"We just helped a man. That's what we wanted to do, whatever we could do to get inside the van and help him out. There was nobody else around here, not anybody in time to save him," the friends said.
The Brown County Sheriff awarded Rients and Schoen a "certificate of civic achievement" for their actions.
The men say the day could have ended much differently. Schoen says he nearly left his pocket knife at home, the knife that cut Johnson out of his seatbelt.
"Almost didn't bring it with me, it came in very handy obviously, helped save a life," he said.
Rients says amazingly enough, he bought two new fire extinguishers for his combine that morning.
"I was feeling I was in need of two fire extinguishers so I just bought two new ones, and of course we used one of them. It bought us a little time to help this man," Rients said.
Rients and Schoen say they learned the victim has ties to the Brainerd area.
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