Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Left to right: Officers Derek Christensen, Gary Trost and head coach Fred Ross talk to their West High boys basketball team at West High on Dec. 29, 2001.
My kids wouldn’t have a mother if it were not for him, and I wouldn’t have a wife. —Dave Lund on Gary Trost

PROVO — You couldn't miss him.

His 6-foot-10 frame towered above the crowd on the concourse of Vivint Arena as he walked in his gray security garb. Again, during a skirmish between players during a Jazz game, Gary Trost is a can’t-miss guy right there by the bench, protecting personnel and providing security.

A former Granite High and BYU center, Trost has had a lifetime of saving the day, and seeing him during an NBA game on TV doing his job reminded me of a story he told me more than 20 years ago. He was a student-athlete, newly married and on vacation in Idaho. It was the day he helped save a Las Vegas family from their burning SUV.

It remains one of the more remarkable stories I’ve come across in my newspaper career.

It was 6:09 p.m., in August 1992 on Highway 20 just outside Ashton, Idaho, when Dave and Sheryl Lund and their family entered a Twilight Zone of sorts. Unconscious and helpless in the passenger seat of a 1979 Suburban, Dave learned a few hours later he’d nearly lost his wife and likely other members of his family if not for a 6-10 Eagle Scout who’d made it his life mission to help others.

The Lund family had just fueled up in Idaho Falls. A Las Vegas pharmacist, Dave and his 17-year-old son Dan, were in the front seat with Sheryl, who was driving. Daughters Holly, 7; Jessica, 9; Heather, 14; and Melissa, 18 were in the back seats. It was a Yellowstone vacation trip. All but Sheryl and one of the girls were asleep.

A 3-ton potato truck, driven by a 17-year-old, swerved in front of the Lund vehicle, making a turn to a side road. The Lund SUV was going 50 miles per hour and Sheryl was standing on the brake pedal. The resulting head-on collision crumpled the front of the Lunds' car, shoving the engine block toward the firewall of the cab. The shock absorbers penetrated the firewall. The impact squeezed the passenger compartment, trapping Sheryl. The steering wheel was pushed 10 inches from the front seat, breaking her ribs and pelvis. Her right heel was shattered and her left upper and lower leg broken. She was fully conscious.

Dave, who was not buckled in, was thrown against the dashboard, knocking him unconscious, breaking four ribs and his hip, injuries that would later require a plate and 14 screws during surgery.

Holly was unhurt. Jessica suffered a lacerated head and eye. Blood gushed from the wound. Melissa was thrown so hard against the front seat she broke her leg just above the ankle. Heather had a serious wound above her eyebrow that punctured her cranium and she was bleeding profusely. Her coma lasted four days. Daniel was thrown against the dash, his legs tangled against the gas pedal, dislocating his hip.

The SUV was on fire. Temperatures rose as the flames flickered upward.

Trost and his wife Sheri were passengers in a vehicle driven by David Clark, Sheri’s brother. They miraculously came upon the scene just 10 seconds after the collision where the Lund vehicle was off the road in a lava field. The Trosts had just been riding horses and were on their way to see a big bull, traveling a road they ordinarily would never have taken.

Clark pulled over by the Lunds' SUV. Gary got out with Sheri, a registered nurse. Merlin Hansen, who was operating a combine nearby, rushed over, and motorist Brian Loosli also stopped to render assistance.

“I approached the vehicle and it was eerie and quiet,” said Trost. “Then I heard a sickening moan. I saw the heads of the girls in the back seat and my heart sank through my stomach.”

As traffic backed up, Clark, a volunteer fireman in Ashton, immediately went to trucks, RVs and cars seeking fire extinguishers, tools and chains. Trost opened the back door and began getting the girls out. Holly was screaming. Jessica’s head wound soaked Trost’s shirt as he lifted her out. Heather’s eyes were open but Trost described her as having a stone-cold stare. He thought she was dead.

Employing chains and a truck, the men pulled off the passenger door as Sheri attended to the girls. The rescuers pulled Dave out, untangled Daniel and got him out, but the mother was trapped. After ripping off the driver’s door and trying to free Sheryl, they couldn’t move her. Flames shot out from the engine compartment and the men reacted by using fire retardant sprays to keep it down. Soon, the fire extinguishers were empty. The fire department had not yet arrived and the flames increased as the Suburban heated up like a frying pan.

Trost and another man tried pulling Sheryl through the passenger seat but she cried out in pain, begging them not to move her. A crowd of 30 people gathered. A tire popped and Trost thought the gas tank had exploded. His heart went to his throat.

The crowd stayed back 50 feet as the men worked to free Sheryl. The fear of a full fuel tank brought thoughts of deadly vapors that could ignite around the scene. Time was running out on Sheryl. Her chest hurt, her lung was punctured, but she saw that her family was safe. A member of the LDS faith, she was resigned to the fact that this was it. She had faith in what lie beyond. She told Trost to take his wife and go to safety and leave her there before the Suburban exploded.

“Get out and let it burn,” she said.

“Over my dead body,” said Trost.

Later, Trost told the Lunds he could not have lived with himself if he’d walked away and hadn’t done everything he could to save the mother of the family. He couldn’t just watch her burn to death before his eyes.

With flames rising higher and higher, Trost then did something perhaps only a 6-foot-10 athlete could do. Nobody in that crowd at that minute had his size and frame. He crawled in the Suburban and straddled the driver’s seat, pushing the dashboard with his feet with his butt against the back of the seat. Sheryl’s head was between his lanky legs. He pushed with all his might, trying to extend his knees and legs with a unique dynamic.

Trost pushed against the steering wheel and the back of the seat broke. The 10-inch space between Sheryl and the steering wheel widened. Trost then took her mangled legs and someone else held her under her arms and they pulled her out of the Suburban.

Two minutes later, the SUV exploded, melting the interior, consuming the upholstery, and incinerating the contents of the vehicle.

“It was fried like burnt toast,” said Trost.

“There was a higher power at work that day,” said Dave, who for some reason had taken a road that was a quarter of a mile out of their way.

A helicopter arrived and transported Heather and Sheryl quickly to Idaho Falls. Dave and Sheryl were hospitalized for a month, separated in different hospitals in Rexburg and Idaho Falls. During that time they became grandparents for the first time when their fifth daughter, not traveling with them, delivered. Eight days after the accident, they celebrated their wedding anniversary while separated.

I spoke to Sheryl and Dave right after this accident more than 20 years ago. She was 43 at the time and he was 44.

“Gary was a hero. No question. He’s the one who got in there and broke that seat down.”

“My kids wouldn’t have a mother if it were not for him,” said Dave. “And I wouldn’t have a wife, a very special lady. It’s worth all the money in the world to have her with us today and I owe this to Gary.”

That, folks, is the security guard working the sidelines and portals and protecting the teams' benches at the NBA playoffs when the Jazz-Thunder series returns to Salt Lake City this week.

I like this guy.