CAMP RIPLEY - Staff Sgt. Tim Richards, a Minnesota National Guard recruiter from Pillager, and 17-year-old Chaz Bloom of Little Falls don't consider themselves heroes.
The two men were instrumental in rescuing two women during a winter snowstorm on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving Day, in an incident that could've quickly turned into tragedy.
The two women - Stacie Kutzorik from Pierz and Melodie Lincowski from Park Rapids - were driving north on Highway 10, south of St. Cloud. Kutzorik, the driver, was changing lanes when the truck went off the roadway and slid onto a frozen holding pond where it rolled over and broke through the ice. The truck rested on the passenger side and became partly submerged in seconds.
Capt. Al Kutz of the St. Cloud District of the State Patrol said if Richards, Bloom and Tony McNeal from Rice, who also helped in rescuing the women, did not stop to help the women they may have not survived.
“(Kutzorik and Lincowski) were lucky that they came when they did,” said Kutz. “They’re there within minutes after it happen. The truck wasn’t completely underwater. They only had about a 10-inch breathing space. The water was so cold.
“They slid into a spot where people normally wouldn’t look when driving and you could only see a small part of the truck sticking out of the pond. I don’t think they would’ve survived if it wasn’t for these guys.”
The accident was reported at 3:44 p.m. Kutz said if the accident would’ve happened during light traffic or hours later when it was dark, it would’ve been even more difficult to see the truck in the pond.
Kutz nominated the three men for the State Patrol’s annual lifesaving award for their brave efforts in rescuing the women. The women were taken to the St. Cloud Hospital after the incident. Kutzorik was released the night of the accident and Lincowski was released four days later.
Richards and Bloom said anyone in their situation would’ve done the same thing to help the women who were in trouble.
“Everyone keeps calling me a hero, but it’s the way I was brought up,” said Bloom. “I would’ve helped anyone in this type of situation. It’s the right thing to do.
“My instinct just kicked in.”
“I didn’t even have to think about it,” Richards said of helping the women. “You just do it. Anyone would have done the same thing.”
Richards and Bloom were on their way back to the Brainerd lakes area after making an overnight trip to Sioux Falls, S.D. The men had been at an Army National Guard Recruiting Center where Bloom was enlisting to be in the Minnesota National Guard.
“I’ve been wanting to be in the National Guard since age 15-16,” said Bloom, the son of Joshua and MaryAnne Bloom. “It’s the right thing to do and it helps pay for college.”
Richards said seeing how Bloom stepped up to the plate to help the women is exactly the type of characteristics that the National Guard looks for.
“National Guard soldiers don’t think about their safety before others,” said Richards.
Richards said when they were driving home on Nov. 24, the weather conditions were poor. Richards said Bloom was texting his girlfriend when he saw snow fly up in the air and he looked over to see what it was. He saw the truck in the pond and he hit the brakes. He and Bloom ran down to the pond and into the freezing cold water up to their neck. Another passerby, McNeal, also ran to the truck to help.
“(McNeal) was trying to open the door but he couldn’t,” said Richards. “They were screaming and their words weren’t coherent. It’s like when you jump suddenly into cold water you make these gasping noises ... The passenger had gone under and she inhaled water. It was just the two of them and we were happy to see two heads up.”
Richards said they had to cut the driver’s seat belt to get her out. They then pulled both women out carefully just in case of injuries and brought them to the side of the road. Richards said there were several bystanders who helped the women by bringing them coats, sweatshirts and blankets until the ambulance arrived.
Richards and Bloom had a change of clothes in their overnight bag to help them warm up.
Days after the incident, the women called the men who rescued them to say thank you.
“It was reassuring to hear their voices and knowing that they’re OK,” said Richards. “They both escaped relatively well from the situation.”
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.