About Utah: USU videographer filmed video of heroic rescue, but relatively unknown

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 2011 11:08 p.m. MDT

A small charred patch of asphalt on the road next to Utah State University is the only evidence that remains of the fiery car-motorcycle crash that inspired a spontaneous act of selfless service seen around the world.

Lee Benson, Deseret News

LOGAN — The dust has settled, the police reports have been filed, only a small patch of charred asphalt on a highway next to the Utah State University campus remains as tangible evidence of an incident that three weeks ago mesmerized and inspired the world.

And perhaps what points most to the unscripted, entirely unorganized nature of the spontaneous act of selfless service that occurred here is the fact that no one wrote down the names of all the heroes.

Well over 2 million You Tube hits later, no comprehensive list exists that identifies the people who lifted the burning 4,000-pound BMW automobile off motorcyclist Brandon Wright so he could be rescued from underneath.

The police didn't compile one. The university didn't compile one. The rescuers sure didn't.

Nor did Chris Garff, the USU videographer whose quick reflexes took an incident that would have otherwise been at most an item in the local newspaper's police blotter and turned it into an international incident.

Garff, a 31-year-old Utah State graduate now working for his alma mater, was in the O.C. Tanner Lounge on the top floor of the George S. Eccles Building in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business (not a bad trio of selfless Utah philanthropists right there) about to record a lecture in the next class hour. It was 11:40 a.m. and he had his camera locked and loaded, ready to go when class started.

His attention was diverted by smoke on the highway below. A car had collided with a motorcycle and both were on fire.

Chris turned his camera around, pointed it toward the street nine stories below, and started shooting.

Within two minutes, he had captured everything — the arrival of bystanders who, when they realized someone was underneath the car, ignored the flames and fear of explosion and rallied together to lift the 2-ton vehicle.

Chris remembers looking through his camera in awe.

"A bunch of strangers came together to risk their lives to lift a car off someone they didn't know to save his life," he says. "That isn't something you see everyday."

He rushed to his workstation in the library next door to upload the video as a co-worker looked on. "While you're uploading, I'll give KSL a call," said the co-worker.

The Salt Lake TV station immediately put the footage on the air. In no time, Chris Garff's video circled the globe. It was every news station's feel-good story. TV anchors introduced the footage with, "You've got to watch this." Online newspapers and blogs downloaded the video and wrote headlines about "Good Samaritans," "Angels," "Utah Heroes."

The film clearly showed that there were 13 who lifted the car long enough for Wright to be dragged to safety and another two who rushed to the car as it was being lowered. Bit by bit, identities of some of them emerged in news accounts. A radiation therapist named Matt Barney was driving behind the motorcycle and apparently arrived on the scene first, followed closely by a Logan fruit-stand owner named Tom Timken, who was driving by on his way home at lunchtime. They were quickly joined by USU freshman roommates from Boise, Kelsey Alder and Catherine Grigg, who watched the wreck unfold from the kitchen window in their dorm room at Moen Hall and hurried out to help.

Timken, who put his leather work gloves on as he ran from his truck, first tried to lift the car by himself. Then Mike Johnson, a worker who came from the adjacent construction site for the school's new agricultural building, gave it a go alone. Again, nothing doing. Others poured in and six of them tried to hoist the car. Still no luck. Within seconds there were 10 of them, then 11, and finally 13. When the wheels at last lifted off the ground, construction worker Lee Christensen reached down next to the flames, grabbed Brandon's leg, and pulled him free.

An ambulance transported Brandon to the hospital, where his injuries were identified as serious and numerous, but treatable. As soon as he could, he publicly thanked the heroes who came to his aid.

Collectively, but not individually.

Because no one had compiled the full list. Or even tried to. At least not until now.

In doing research for this column, I was able to find the names of 13 individuals listed in one media report or another as rescuers. It isn't a definitive list, but it's getting closer. It includes six Utah State students, five construction workers and two townspeople.

The Utah State students: Kelsey Alder, Catherine Grigg, Abbass Al-Sarif, James Odei, Anvar Suyundikov, Austin Knutson.

The construction workers: Mike Johnson, Lee Christensen, Albin Mocevic, Kade Lundgren, Derrick Harper.

The townspeople: Matt Barney, Tom Timken.

It is a diverse group. There are two females and eleven males. They range in age from 18 (Kelsey) to 62 (Timken). At least three are from foreign countries (Al-Sharif is from Lebanon, Odei is from Ghana, and Surundikov is from Uzbekistan). For the most part, they had no idea who the person was lifting next to them. A glazier beside a coed beside a merchant beside a grad student.

And no one did it for the publicity.

"We like to think it reflects who we are and what we stand for at this school and in this community," said USU President Stan Albrecht.

Garff, the videographer, seconded that. "There's a different atmosphere here," he said. "I don't know what it is exactly, but I know I just shot it."

To view the video, click here.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS