Dazed and injured, they staggered through the black morning and into the quarry – friends who moments earlier had crawled from the wreckage of an overturned Ford. Four had found each other through the darkness. Four others were missing.
“I knew that I had to take care of them. They were bloodied and they were scared,” said Dan Walters, a utility worker at Yellow Medicine Quarry in Granite Falls, Minnesota. “I went through my brain to see what we could do and how we could get them to a safe place.”
Walters, a 22-year veteran volunteer firefighter who had previously served as an assistant chief and a safety officer with the Granite Falls Fire Department, wasted no time.
He radioed Leadperson Jon Tjaden, the most senior crew member on site and the only one with a cellphone. Within minutes, all mining operations had been shut down and emergency personnel were on the way.
Granite Falls Police Chief Brian Struffert said the driver of the 1997 Ford F-150 was speeding when he lost control of the truck, went off a city road and rolled over about 1:15 a.m. on April 25.
A 1997 pickup truck sustained severe damage after it was rolled outside Yellow Medicine Quarry.
In shock, several of the victims wandered into the quarry, turning to Walters for help.
The miner, who in those early morning hours had been with Martin Marietta for just three weeks, was given a difficult task: to care for the victims as best he could while safely navigating the property.
He relied upon his background as a firefighter and his Company training.
“When we started walking toward the shop – the nearest safe place – one of the girls started to faint on me,” he said. “She had bumped her head in the crash and was bleeding from her ear. I had some concern that she had suffered a concussion because she wanted to pass out and her eyes were starting to roll back in her head.
“I wanted her to stay focused so I drilled her with questions – who she was, where she was from, who her parents were. I tried to keep her calm because I was sure shock was also part of the issue.”
Meanwhile, Tjaden was assigned a different mission.
“When Dan radioed me over the two-way, he said there were people walking over near the ballast plant,” Tjaden said. “I didn’t know what was going on, but obviously, that’s not something we need, so we shut everything down immediately. I wanted to know exactly where everyone was so there wouldn’t be any accidents.”
Once he was sure the rest of the crew had stopped working, Tjaden ordered everyone besides Walters to remain at their stations and made himself available to guide emergency responders entering the quarry.
Struffert said the eight victims – ages 12 to 28 – were riding in the truck’s extended cab when the crash occurred and that all had been located by the time authorities arrived.
The injured were taken to Granite Falls Municipal Hospital for treatment and released later that day.
Plant Manager Rick Van Gronigen, who said Walters’ firefighting experience was a key factor in the decision to offer him a job at Yellow Medicine, praised the actions of all the men on the shift.
“They’re smart guys and they used their heads,” Van Gronigen said. “They shut everything down and tended to the wounded. It was the right decision.”
Tjaden, whose orders kept the plant idle for about two hours that morning, said he was pleased with how the team – composed almost exclusively of newly hired employees – handled themselves.
“We’ve talked quite a bit about what we’re supposed to do and what would need to be done should a situation like that arise,” he said. “I would say the response went pretty well. We didn’t have any problems and, most importantly, no one else got hurt.”