Kicking and punching his car window in an effort to get out after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., on Aug. 1, Brian Sturgill felt the panic rising as he realized he was trapped in his partially submerged vehicle.
"This is it," he thought. He had just survived a 65-foot drop and was trapped in his car with no way out and no idea how much time he had left.
At least five people were killed and about 100 injured when the concrete and steel bridge abruptly gave way in rush-hour traffic, sending dozens of vehicles and tons of debris into the Mississippi River.
A regional manager for a security systems company, the 26-year-old member of the La Jolla Young Single Adult Ward, San Diego California North Stake, was in Minneapolis on business. He had been searching for a hotel when the bridge he was on collapsed from under him.
After unsuccessfully trying to open the door, and later break through the windows, the thought came to try the door again. That time he got out.
Emerging from the wreck, he realized there were others who would need his help.
"I panic very easily," said Brian from his parents' home in Ashland, Ky., during a phone interview with the Church News. "My own nature isn't to be calm and relaxed. But as quickly as the thought (to panic) came, a calm came over me and I got the impression, 'You're going to be OK.' I felt I needed to make decisions that would get me to safety."
Outside, he noticed a man standing on top of his fully-submerged car. The man said he couldn't swim very well. As oil from a nearby truck began to darken the water and small fires started to ignite, Brian had to think quickly. Knowing the truck could explode at any moment, he found a splintered two-by-four and with it pulled the man to safety.
Two women emerged from their cars. Both had lost their shoes while making their way out and were barefoot. With broken glass and debris scattered everywhere, Brian broke open his window, popped the trunk and pulled out his sopping-wet suitcase to give the women the extra pairs of shoes he had packed.
Rescuers could not immediately reach the group so he and others used Brian's cell phone, the only one not damaged in the water, to inform families of their safety.
As news spread in his Ashland hometown about his involvement in the bridge accident, friends and neighbors of various faiths offered prayers on his behalf throughout the evening.
"I believe it's been an answer to many prayers that I was protected," he said. "I was able to walk away with only cuts and scrapes. But I really believe Heavenly Father helped me remain calm and watched over all those people and our decisions.
"Whenever there's a situation where you could've lost your life, it changes your perspective; it changes your outlook. All these things you take for granted, you come to appreciate a lot more."
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