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Mail truck runs over 4-year-old, helmet likely saves his life

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Christopher Groenwold holds his 4-year-old son Cohen Saturday, May 11, in front of his home on Ottertail Circle in Baxter, after a U.S. Postal Service mail truck ran over the boy while on a bicycle. The bicycle can be seen beneath the truck and pieces of the boy's helmet on the road. Submitted Photo2 / 7
Holding pieces of a crushed bicycle helmet, Christopher Groenwold on Monday recalls the moments before and after his 4-year-old son Cohen (left) was run over by a mail truck. The incident occurred Saturday, May 11, in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 7
Cohen Groenwold sits outside with father Christopher Groenwold Monday, May 13, after surviving being run over by a mail truck Saturday. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 7
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted discusses the incident during which a mail truck ran over the head of a 4-year-old Baxter boy. The helmet he wore was destroyed, but the boy left with only minor scrapes and scratches. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch5 / 7
Scratches and red marks are seen on 4-year-old Cohen Groenwold's head as a result of being run over by a mail truck Saturday at his Baxter home. Submitted Photo6 / 7
Scratches and red marks are seen on 4-year-old Cohen Groenwold's head as a result of being run over by a mail truck Saturday at his Baxter home. The boy was wearing a helmet, which likely saved his life. Submitted Photo7 / 7

BAXTER—It could have been a parent's worst nightmare. Instead it turned into what a Baxter father believes was a miracle.

It was a nice, sunny afternoon Saturday, May 11, and Christopher Groenwold and his two children—Haven, 6, and Cohen, 4—were outside enjoying the weather. The children's mother, Rebecca, was at work. It was just before 1:30 p.m. when a U.S. Postal Service mail truck was making its deliveries in the Baxter neighborhood, southeast of Forestview Middle School. Christopher Groenwold walked up to the smaller-sized mail truck on Ottertail Circle to get the mail, as Cohen—who happened to have his sister's bike at the time—biked around.

Cohen's father got the mail, turned around and then he turned back and saw the front of the truck "hop up a bit," Groenwold said.

In a split second, the mail truck ran over Cohen.

"I heard kind of a pop. ... He was crying and I grabbed him and put him in my lap. He had a little piece of helmet still left on him. The helmet saved his life. When the vehicle rolled over his head, if he didn't have his helmet on he wouldn't be playing here today."

Monday, Groenwold held a few of the pieces of the helmet—one of the pieces actually had the tire impression in the foam of the black child's helmet—as his two children played in the sand alongside the residential road looking for ants.

Watching Cohen play with his older sister, one would never know by looking at him that 48 hours earlier could have been a life-changer for the small boy, who is full of energy.

"It truly was a miracle," Groenwold said. "It was pretty scary."

Cohen was transported by North Memorial Ambulance to Essential Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. The boy ended up with road rash, and scratches on his back and scalp.

"He has been sore in the mornings and I sleep in his room at night to watch him," Groenwold said, making sure his boy is OK through the night.

Emergency situations are something Groenwold is prepared for professionally. He has been a Brainerd firefighter for 10 years, and also is an emergency medical technician. Before becoming a firefighter he worked for North Memorial Ambulance.

"I never thought this would happen to us, but it did," Groenwold said.

Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said the outcome of this incident, which could have been tragic, was better than anyone could have anticipated.

"No one saw this little guy sneak in front of the truck," Exsted said. "We preach all the time for kids to wear their helmets. It appears here the tire went over the helmet and ... it's amazing. We're always preaching kids to wear their helmets.

"It's getting warm out and people are starting to hop on their bicycles, so this is a good reminder for people to wear their helmets."

Exsted said to see the bicycle helmet shattered in so many pieces and for Cohen to be physically OK, it is "pretty impressive."

"The helmet took the brunt of it," the chief said.

Baxter police strongly encourage children to wear their helmets when biking, especially with the summer months approaching. Police reward children they see wearing a helmet by offering them a Dairy Queen coupon for a free ice cream cone.

Baxter police also partner with the Brainerd Police Department and Essentia Health by hosting the annual Brainerd Lakes Bicycle Safety Clinic. This year's clinic was May 4 and more than 100 children participated.

Exsted said there will be no criminal charges against the mail route driver as it was just a "freak crash." However, the driver may be cited for a possible minor moving violation. The Dispatch is not naming the driver because they were not criminally charged.

Jennifer Kraus

A big part of my day is chasing down tips on a variety of breaking news stories, relating to vehicle crashes, fires, police incidents and court cases. I’m always thankful when people call in tips to alert me on an incident so I can follow up and see if the tip is actually something that occurred or is a rumor. It’s a big scope to keep track of as we not only cover Brainerd and Crow Wing County incidents, but we also cover the surrounding counties and cities. I also gather information on the entertainment scene, so if you are hosting a band or choir concert, an art exhibit, a play or other theater production -- I want to hear about it. If you know of a story on any of these beats, give me a shout! To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.

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