ST. PAUL - Ronnie Christmas wept from the burn unit of Regions Hospital. But he shed tears of happiness. For the first time, the 23-year-old met the two Maplewood officers who pulled him from a burning vehicle earlier this month.
"Thank you guys so much. Oh God! Another second and I would've been dead," Christmas told the officers. "(Thank you for) becoming police officers. Even just not being police officers. Just being people with enough integrity to get in a fire. I am not sure if I would've been able."
Christmas tried to give the officers a hug but his injures wouldn't let him. He has broken ribs, a fractured hip and pelvis. Plus, he has severe burns on his back, legs, hands and missing teeth.
During the early morning hours of April 5, Christmas was trapped inside his car, yelling for help. He said he was on his way to pick his girlfriend up from work. His mother, who lives in Chicago, feared the worst when she got the call letting her son was in critical condition.
"I had a meltdown. We all cried. He said 'mom another minute in that car and you would have been planning my funeral. I am so grateful for the officers that risked their lives to save my son," ," said his mother, Vanessa Jenkins.
The first time his mother saw the police dash cam video showing the burning car she was overwhelmed.
"I thought wow, 'Those are the angels that God promised us, to protect us."
Turns out, Christmas' angels, Officers Clint Able and Jason Marino of Maplewood, wear blue. When the three were reunited, the officers said they were "in the right place at the right time."
"We did what any other officer would have done," Able said.
Marino and Able said they weren't afraid but neither initially told their wives about what had happened.
"My wife, she must have saw it on the news or Facebook or something. She said she was checking my hands out to see if I was burned while I was sleeping," Marino said.
Neither officer was injured.
The dash cam video shows the officers running to the fire instead of waiting for firefighters to arrive. The Maplewood officers said they had no time to wait.
Christmas' sister, Chantal Jenkins, gave the officers high praise. She said too often law enforcement members are highlighted for their mistakes.
"Most people talk bad about police officers … but for them to risk their lives and save my brother, I look at them as his guardian angles," Chantal Jenkins said.
William Mohr, Co-director of the burn Center at Regions Hospital said if the officers hadn't been patrolling the area, the outcome would've been tragic.
"Another 30 seconds and Ronnie's burns would have been so deep on his legs he would have likely required amputations to survive. Another minute, we wouldn't be here talking about how Ronnie should make a full recovery after therapy," Mohr said.
Meanwhile, Christmas is expected to start physical therapy in about six weeks. It will take 10 weeks for his fractured hip to heal. During the early stages of Christmas' recovery, machines helped him breathe. His mother keeps the image on her phone as reminder of how far her son has come. Christmas said his mother has slept in a chair by his side every night since the accident. During private moments, Christmas said he found himself complaining but that didn't last long.
"I would say, 'What about my teeth mom. I love my smile.' Then she always snaps me back into reality. Son, you could've not been here at all," Christmas said.