NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. – A Minneapolis man says he owes his life to a fellow driver who pulled him from a burning SUV.
Robert Renning of Woodbury was headed southbound on Interstate 35W near County Road D Sunday evening, coming back from a relative's lake cabin, when he noticed a vehicle driving near him was on fire. He flagged down the motorist — Michael Johannes of Minneapolis — but Johannes had already pulled over.
"I knew something was up. I saw smoke in the back and all of the sudden my speedometer went to zero. I hit the brakes and there was no brakes and I pulled over to the side and it locked me in. I started kicking because there was smoke," said Johannes. "It was 30 seconds, I would have been gone, just like that."
That's when Renning sprang into action. He ran to the car and bent the locked door in half.
"He bent the door with his bare hands.That was him. It was no tool," said Johannes. "It shattered the glass and they were able to pull me out."
Johannes suffered minor smoke inhalation and sustained light cuts from being pulled through the shattered window, while Renning was unharmed. Johannes is still dealing with emotional wounds.
"I have get over that what if? Leaving my child without a father, I have a seven-year-old," said Johannes. "Someone risked their own life to save mine, that's all I can really say, that is the emotional part."
Renning humbly deflected any accolades of heroism. He serves as a first sergeant in the Air National Guard and says he's been trained in risk management, but that didn't necessarily prepare him for the situation he faced Sunday.
"I'm just glad he's okay. I'm glad he is okay and able to spend the time with his family today. I don't think I did anything different than anyone else would have done had they gotten into the car ahead of me. That's just my take," said Renning. "I helped him out of the car. That's good enough."
Renning said he doesn't remember much about pulling the car door off, but said he grabbed hold of the top of the door, and leveraged his foot to yank it loose.
"It's funny because my family was teasing me last night that it seemed silly to run towards a burning car. I don't know. Somebody was in trouble. You are supposed to help each other out so I was headed his way to give him a hand," he said.
The Minnesota State Patrol applauded Renning's actions.
"He did an extraordinary deed, bending a locked car door in half of a burning car to extricate a trapped person," said State Trooper Zachary Hill, who responded to the scene and took pictures in the aftermath. "I feel this man deserves any and all commendation for his extraordinary life-saving measure that kept another from burning alive."
Mike Johannes and his wife Lisa say Renning gave them the second miracle of their life. Their daughter was born premature at 24 weeks but fought to survive. Now Johannes has a survival story of his own, that allows him to watch his daughter grow up.
"You think how many people you see drive by the highway. Really, eternally grateful to this person who didn't have to stop. We are just really glad today is the way it is as opposed to the way it could have been," said Lisa Johannes.
"All I can do is thank him. My wife thanks him, my daughter does. We will meet up with him and I'll have her give him a big hug,"he said.
Johannes and Renning plan to meet in person soon for that hug and a celebratory beer.
Johannes will also investigate what went wrong with his used 2006 Chevy Trailblazer, which he purchased last week.