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He only wanted to save accident victim’s life

Shoen cuts seat belt in burning van

October 3, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

COMFREY - A 27-year-old rural Springfield man who helped save the life of a 74-year-old Nebraska man by cutting his seat belt in a burning van Sunday afternoon said he never intended to be a hero.

"I just thought what I did was what any respectable citizen would do," said Stetson Shoen Tuesday. "I just wanted to save his life. I didn't think it was a big deal. This is what people should do when this happens."

Shoen said he was v-ripping (plowing a corn field) that belonged to a good friend, Nick Rients, north of Rients' grove - about five miles west of Comfrey - late Sunday afternoon.

Then he got a cell phone call from Rients who was combining beans across the road from his farm place.

"Nick called and said he saw smoke and that something was on fire," Shoen said. "Nick drove his combine to where the smoke was coming from, saw fire and that a van door was open. He called 911 and called me back to come over and help."

Shoen said he drove a tractor to Rients' shop, grabbed a fire extinguisher and drove Rients' pickup to the fire.

"Smoke was coming out real bad. Nick had already used up one fire extinguisher on the fire and was using another on it," Shoen said. "Fire was coming out of the van hood. I used an extinguisher to put it out, then looked into the van, noticed the man was pinned in the van by his seat belt so I cut it apart. Nick and I carried him to safety in the field, away from the van. Everything really happened fast."

Shoen said when he looked back at the van, it was engulfed in flames. Shoen and Rients waited in the field with the man until Comfrey First Responders and Fire and Rescue arrived. Comfrey Police assisted at the scene.

A full-time mechanic at Ed's Repair in Springfield, Shoen said he was helping Rients complete fall harvest because he enjoys field work.

Rients was not available by telephone Tuesday.

Shoen and Rients were honored for their Good Samaritan efforts from Brown County Sheriff Rich Hoffmann on Tuesday.

Shoen said television stations from Mankato and the Twin Cities metro area have driven to the accident scene and interviewed them since the mishap.

Rients reported the single-vehicle accident at 5:36 p.m., Sunday on 400th Ave. about a half mile north of CSAH 17.

A 1995 Mercury Villager van driven by Lance F. Johnson, 74, Wymore, Neb., was southbound on 400th Ave. when it left the road, hit a field approach in the east ditch and caught fire.

Johnson was transported to Springfield-Mayo Clinic Health System, then taken to Regions Hospital burn center, St. Paul by North Memorial Air Ambulance. Johnson suffered severe left leg burns. There were no other van passengers, according to a Brown County Sheriff's Office news release.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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