SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) –A Sioux Falls truck driver passed away last weekend after a fiery semi crash near Faribault, Minnesota, last month.
While his family is mourning his loss, they’re also grateful for the time they’ve had with him the past few weeks, all thanks to the people they call angels at the scene.
“He’s always been a truck driver,” Melanie Brown said of her husband Dennis.
Since he was 16-years-old living in De Smet, driving a semi-truck has always been a part of Dennis Brown’s life.
“He’s driven five and a half million miles, never had an accident, never had a speeding ticket,” Brown said.
But on July 12th, Melanie got the phone call she never once expected in their 40 years of marriage while her husband was out on the road.
“A woman from the police station called and said, ‘Are you Dennis Brown’s wife? I need to let you know that your husband was in an accident,'” Brown said.
Just after noon that Wednesday, Dennis and another semi-truck crashed into each other in a construction zone on southbound I-35 just north of Faribault, MN, the severity of the crash quickly catching the attention of other drivers.
“They called 911 and said there had been an accident and they drove across to the other side of the interstate and ran to see if they could help. Someone had just said, we’re pretty sure whoever was in that truck is probably gone. She walked up to the truck and heard him screaming for help. She said, ‘This person is alive. We need to help him,'” Brown said.
The call for help was answered by many other drivers parked behind the crash scene on the interstate.
“Those are people that didn’t even know my husband and they came running from every direction; they were the angels that saved him,” Brown said.
The biggest challenge was trying to get Dennis out of the burning cab.
“I could see that there were people trying to get the drivers door open. And that there were flames showing and everything else,” Rice County Deputy Nathan Hanson said.
Deputy Hanson was the first responder on the scene; he quickly learned Dennis was trapped inside.
“I remember him saying that he could not get out, someone telling him he needs to get out and him saying I can’t,” Hanson said.
Deputy Hanson worked with the team of good Samaritans on the scene to get him out.
“Motorists on the roadway, one had located a pry bar and was able to pry the driver’s door open, I was able to use the fire extinguisher to knock down the flames that were inside the cab,” Hanson said.
But once the fire extinguisher was out, it became a battle against time as the flames inside the cab grew.
“I know if I don’t get him out of that truck, I knew he was going to die, that was driving point, pulling as hard as I could to get whatever was in there stuck dislodged and get him out,” Hanson said.
DOT traffic cameras captured the moment they were finally able to pull him from the semi and drag him to safety.
“After I pulled him out, were able to get him over to the guard rail, cable barrier, I heard and explosion,” Hanson said.
Seconds after pulling him out of the cab, you can see the cab of Dennis’s semi erupt in flames.
“There was hardly any time to spare, if those women hadn’t called 911 as fast as they did, if the sheriff hadn’t responded as fast as he did, if those people hadn’t started chipping at the door when they did, and people came to his rescue, it would have turned out totally different,” Brown said.
Thanks to the quick actions of so many, Dennis was flown to the Hennepin Healthcare Burn Center.
“I just asked her if I could hear his voice, can I talk to him. And she said, just a minute, she handed him the phone and he said hi honey,” Brown said of her phone call with police right before Dennis boarded the helicopter.
But after four surgeries, the strain became too much for the 79-year-old who passed away Friday after weeks fighting to recover.
“The important thing is that his family had a chance to say goodbye,” Hanson said.
Conversations and special moments spent together that mean the world to his wife, three kids and seven grandchildren
“The final days before Dad passed we were able to spend it with him listening to his favorite music and watching his favorite movies and shows remembering all of the good times we had together and this is something that we will never forget. Time is something you will never get back and this is a good reminder to live each day to the fullest and love on your family and friends as life is too short,” Brown’s daughter Pamela Flynn said.
“It was truly a blessing to be able to see Dennis one more time, send him off to Heaven together and have that opportunity,” his son Jeremy Brown said.
An opportunity all thanks to the interstate angels who helped pull Dennis to safety.
“I will forever be thankful for what those complete strangers did to save my dad,” Flynn said.
“For these people to come to the rescue of a total stranger and that man named Nathan risked his life to reach in there and pull him out,” Melanie Brown said. “I just can’t say thank you enough…we are so truly grateful for what they did and I always say those are the true heroes, the angels that were the hands and feet of Jesus that day, they were here to help.”
The Brown family is hoping to have all of the interstate angels who helped rescue Dennis come to his celebration of life at Gloria Dei in Sioux Falls on Friday, August 11th for a chance to thank them in person. In lieu of flowers, the Brown family is gathering donations for the Dennis Brown legacy fund at Firefighters for Healing.