By Lee Bloomquist (Mesabi Tribune)
As water began to enter Demitria Hartl's overturned car just off a slippery Iron Range road, four heroes in work clothes arrived on the scene.
A crew of four Lake Country Power linemen replacing power lines spotted the car upside down Thursday afternoon in a ditch along Highway 37 in Cherry.
“I thought I was going to die,” Hartl, who was driving to a job interview in Duluth said. “I thought, I'm not going to make it, I'm going to drown.”
Hartl, 23, of Mandan, N.D., was eastbound on Highway 37 when the 2017 Toyota Camry she was driving hit slush and spun, according to a Minnesota State Patrol incident report. The car then rolled into the ditch and came to rest on its roof in deep water.
“My front just kind of went out of control and started going in the other lane and then I ended up hitting a road sign and that's what flipped me,” Hartl said. “I thought the sign was going to smoosh. I didn't think it was going to flip me and then I was upside down in about four feet of water.”
In an instant, the day changed for Hartl and Lake Country Power employees Tim Rasmusson, Cody Vredenburg, Matt Bade, and Tyler McClellan.
The Lake Country Power crew, which had just left The Thirsty Moose Bar & Grill after eating lunch, sprang into action.
The four men waded into waist deep water to find Hartl trapped in the overturned car.
“We all went down into the water and were able to flip the car on its side,” Rasmusson said. “It was kind of amazing how light the car felt. We saw car seats in the back and our hearts stopped.”
Hartl had unbuckled her seat belt and crawled to the back of the car as the front end sank and the car began to fill with water
“Before I unbuckled myself, I heard the water rushing in.” Hartl said. “I pulled my phone out of the charger and called 9-1-1. I was just screaming for help. I'm not from the area, so I didn't know exactly where I was other than between Hibbing and Virginia.”
But the linemen were already on the move.
The four men quickly moved to use whatever rescue tool was available.
Rasmusson first tried to break the window by punching it with his hand.
But that didn't work.
“I was looking for something that would do the job,” Rasmusson said. “The other three guys held the car up while I went and pulled the receiver hitch out of the back of our truck and we broke the window with it.”
The crew pulled Hartl out of the vehicle through the driver's window and helped her up the embankment.
“She was pretty upset,” Rasmusson said. “We tried to calm her down and got her into our truck to warm up. We kept asking her if there were any kids in the car.”
But thankfully, there weren't. Hartl was the sole person in the vehicle.
“I've never been so happy to see another human being,” Hartl said. “I've never before been so thankful for people.”
An array of emergency responders arrived at the scene.
Hartl was transported to Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing with non-life threatening injuries, according to the State Patrol report. She was treated and released.
After leaving the scene in soaked work clothes, the linemen went back to work.
Later, upon returning to the rural electrical cooperative's Cohasset Service Center, the men recounted the incident.
“Tim's hand had cuts all over it,” Tami Zaun, Lake County Power public relations coordinator said. “He was picking pieces of glass out of it.”
For the crew, it was all in a day's work.
“We see a lot of things out there,” Rasmusson said. “I'm just glad we were there.”
Hartl and her husband Tristan are relocating to the Iron Range with their two children, ages three and two. Demitria Hartl is originally from Arizona. Tristan Hartl grew up in the Chisholm-Hibbing area.
“Those guys are heroes for acting like they did,” Tristan Hartl said. “People nowadays pass the buck all the time and these guys didn't pass the buck.”
Lake Country Power General Manager Mark Bakk says he's extremely proud of the crew.
“It's pretty amazing,” Bakk said. “I couldn't be more proud of those guys stopping and helping. There's a lot of bad news out there nowadays and it's good to hear a story like this that shows there are a lot of good people out there.”
The training that Lake Country Power workers go through paid off by saving a mother's life, Tristan Hartl said.
“Lake Country Power with their safety training program created heroes,” he said. “Those guys made sure they had a mom yesterday.”
Rasmusson says he and his co-workers only did what they hope others would do for someone else.
“It's kind of weird why this is getting so much attention,” Rasmusson said. “None of us are in the spotlight. We're just good old boys.”