SD GOP chair says he saved woman in car wreck (updated)

The chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party helped rescue a woman from a fiery car crash last week in northern Minnesota.

Craig Lawrence was driving with his wife on Minnesota Highway 113 near Waubon on the morning of Sunday, June 30, when he saw an oncoming vehicle lose control, flip over and burst into flames.

"If you’ve ever seen anything like from the Indy 500, where they have a crash and the car rolls and pieces fly — that’s exactly what it was," Lawrence said Friday. “I thought, ‘No one can possibly survive.’"

But the car’s driver and lone occupant, a 19-year-old young woman from Bloomington, was alive — but trapped in her seat as flames began to lick over the car.

Lawrence said a surge of adrenaline coursed through him, and he managed to tear open the stuck car door and help the woman to safety.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol report, the woman was hospitalized with serious, non-life-threatening injuries.

Lawrence said the incident is seared in his mind, especially as he tries to sleep at night. But he said he only did what anyone would have done.

"Anybody pressed into a situation where you get a rush of adrenaline, that’s how ordinary people do things," Lawrence said. “I never thought I’d do that. But it was so weird, the flames were going up. I thought, ‘I don’t care if this blows up, I’m not going to let her die.’"

He told the story in an email to the South Dakota Republican Party mailing list Friday evening, using it as an allegory to urge political action to help the country.

Here’s Lawrence’s account of the accident, as emailed to the Republican Party mailing list. Lawrence changed the name of the victim in the crash:

As I was driving along Minnesota Highway 113 last Sunday the car approaching me drifted into the ditch, then lurched back onto the road. The driver turned the wheel too sharply causing the car to careen back onto the highway nearly sideways. It passed 50 feet behind me and then rolled violently over and over, about 6 times, as I watched in horror. The vehicle disintegrated. Parts and pieces flew onto the highway. The vehicle then rolled one final time into the ditch and immediately burst into flames.

I ran to the burning auto, sure in my mind that no one could have survived the crash. But a young woman was inside, still strapped securely in place by her seatbelt. The fire was gaining strength under the hood, the flames lapping up the windshield. I tried to open the driver’s door but it was smashed, jammed shut. I ran to the other side. Same story. This woman was about to die and her life had been handed to me in this moment of time at this place. I had to act.

Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. It’s like electricity, lighting your mind and muscles with clarity and energy for the task at hand. Giving you superhuman strength. I grabbed the passenger door once more and with all my might wrenched it open.

Inside, Megan Smith sat unconscious, blood pouring from her wounds. I crawled inside to unbuckle her seatbelt. I could feel the warmth of the fire. I said aloud, “Lord, help me. I don’t care if this car blows up. This woman is not going to die, not today.”

She was perhaps 150 pounds, made even heavier being pinned against the seat. I had to drag her by the arms, over the center console and out the passenger door. As I did, she screamed loudly, suddenly awake. I told her, “I’m sorry, I must hurt you to get you out. But if I do not, you will die.”

I dragged her through the ditch, far enough away so the fire couldn’t hurt us, and sat covered in her blood, holding her hand and praying. In a few minutes the driver’s seat was ablaze but Megan Smith was free.

Forty five minutes later the ambulance arrived. Megan’s collar bone was broken, ribs cracked, a concussion, and a broken right hand. But she was alive.