Kalispell drill sergeant helps save family from burning car

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Four drill sergeants saved a family from a burning car Aug. 15, in Sparta, Wisconsin, including Kalispell resident Sgt. 1st Class Eric Juhl (second from left.). Pictured from right to left: Sgt. Roger Williams, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Juhl, accident survivor David Turner,, Sgt. 1st Class Justin McCarthy and Sgt. Daniel McElroy. (Photo courtesy of William Coppernoll, USAG Fort McCoy)

Four United States Army Reserve drill sergeants, including Sgt. 1st Class Eric Juhl of Kalispell, pulled a family to safety after their car crashed and ignited outside a Wisconsin military base on Aug. 15.

Kuhl, who works as a BNSF Railway Co. conductor during the week, is usually stationed in Helena for his reserve duties, but had traveled to Fort McCoy to train other drill sergeants for the Army’s annual Best Warrior Competition.

As Kuhl and his fellow soldiers drove back to their hotel that evening, one of the vehicles in their convoy experienced engine trouble. The group pulled off Highway 21 in Sparta and parked in front of a floral shop to assess the situation.

“As we were all huddled around the open engine compartment, that’s when we heard a commotion out of our sight,” Juhl recalled.

A silver SUV sped past the four sergeants, hopped the median and slammed into a utility pole at full speed. Once the vehicle came to rest it immediately burst into flames, Juhl said. The driver, David Turner, 62, a retired maintenance worker, was traveling with his two granddaughters and had experienced a medical condition that caused him to lose consciousness, according to the Army News Service. The impact fractured the pole, snapping a power line and causing power outages throughout the region.

Upon hearing the crash, the sergeants’ military training kicked in and they raced toward the scene. Dark gray smoke began to fill the car and when Juhl reached the vehicle, he could see the airbags had deployed. Turner had fractured a vertebrae and was sandwiched in the front seat between the side airbags and steering wheel, according to the Army News Service.

“We need to get him out of here now,” Juhl remembered thinking.

The men pried on the driver’s side door in hopes of freeing Turner, but it wouldn’t budge. They were eventually able to peel the top of the frame down, shattering the glass, the news service reported.

“The girls, the girls,” Turner told them, spurring Juhl and another sergeant to wrench open the back doors.

Turner’s granddaughters, Delilah, 4, and London, 2, were shaken up, and crying, but fine, Juhl said. The soldiers handed the girls off to neighbors who had approached the scene so they could continue working to free Turner.

With the help from a passerby, they were finally able to open the passenger’s side door and pull Turner to safety.

“From that car impacting [the pole] to having them out was like two minutes at most,” Juhl said. “If you had a to hit a telephone pole, there was no greater bunch of guys to be standing right there.”

Shortly after Juhl and his fellow soldiers placed Turner and the girls at a safe distance from the SUV, emergency responders arrived. With the family in good hands, the men departed the scene.

The following day, Turner’s family tracked down the soldiers to thank them properly.

“They saved my life, they saved my granddaughters’ lives — they’re my guardian angels. I could say thank-you a million times every day, and that’s not enough,” Turner told News 8. “For them to actually do something like that and then just kind of go their own way again and not ask for anything, that’s a true hero.”

But Juhl maintained anyone in their shoes would have done the same thing — that he and his men just happened to be there at the right place and the right time.

“He was very, very thankful and the family was grateful to us —they’re still sending us pictures of the girls,” Juhl said. “I’m glad we were there, glad we could help.”

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406) 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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