August 6, 2007

Four Delano teens had a front row seat to history in the making

Teens see I-35W bridge a half hour after it collapsed

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

They never made it to the Minnesota Twins game Wednesday night.

Knowing it was student night at the Metrodome, friends Ben Domjahn, Michael Rajewsky, Chris Herkenhoff, and Joey Dzurik, set out from Delano with the plan of watching the Twins take on the Kansas City Royals.

Domjahn, Rajewsky, and Herkenhoff were teammates this summer for Delano Legion baseball, and all four have known each other for some time. Some of their other friends had gone to the Twins game the previous night. The four teens didn’t have anything to do Wednesday night, and thought they’d take in a game.

However, instead of catching the Twins game, they found themselves with a front row seat at the site of the collapsed I-35W bridge a short distance from the dome.

With the Twins game set to start, the four got into the Twin Cities around 6:45 p.m. On their way to the ballpark, Rajewsky’s cell phone rang, and it was his mother, Vicky, on the other end.

While the boys were on their way to the game, Michael’s father, Tim, was flipping through channels on the television at their Delano residence, and caught the first news clips about the I-35W bridge collapsing into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis just after 6 p.m.

“My first thought was to call him (Michael) and make sure that somehow they didn’t get twisted around and end up in that area, and to make sure they were OK,” Vicky said.

“My mom was like, ‘make sure you don’t go down there,’” Michael Rajewsky said.

Domjahn said they turned on the radio in the vehicle and listened a bit about what was happening a mere mile away. Naturally, curiosity got the best of the four teens, and they didn’t quite heed Michael’s mother’s advice.

“We parked by the Guthrie Theater and walked over by the U of M building next to the bridge,” Herkenhoff said. The boys walked on I-35W for a short while, and down an on-ramp, but said it was hard to see anything because the road was lower than the bridge. They walked across the Washington Avenue Bridge to head toward the University of Minnesota.

“We couldn’t get a good view,” Dzurik said. “They were pushing people back pretty far, but the whole bridge was just gone. You could see the green metal leftovers. There were thousands of people flocking to the scene . . . it was total despair.”

“We could see it from down by the river, but it was a bad angle,” Domjahn added, noting there were a lot of other boats and obstructions.

“When we first got down there, we saw a big cloud of black smoke go in the air,” Rajewsky added.

The teens ended up on the top of the parking garage of the Holiday Inn near the Metrodome, Dzurik said, adding they could see the Mini Biff that was being used by construction workers who were working on the bridge, and a van that was sideways.

“That was the best view we had,” Herkenhoff said. “There was a car that was hanging from the bridge.”

“We were up high enough so we could see all the broken beams and stuff,” Rajewsky said, adding there was twisted metal and concrete everywhere.

A landlord of an apartment building not far from the bridge let the four teens enter the building and said they could go up to the roof. However, the boys were unable to find the access to the roof, and continued on their way.

The large number of police and emergency personnel was also something the boys noted while in the area of the collapsed bridge.

“Every police force you could think of was around,” Domjahn said.

Dzurik said the four ran into a reporter from WCCO who asked the boys if they were on the school bus that had been on the bridge.

By this time, the Washington Avenue Bridge had been shut down, and the boys had to walk a longer route to get back to where they had parked.

“We wanted to get out before the Twins fans got released,” Dzurik said, noting they got out of the Twin Cities area a little after 9 p.m. The teens said traffic getting out of the cities and back to Delano was not bad.

“It was pretty surreal now that I think about it. I don’t know how it happened, it’s kind of mind-boggling,” Herkenhoff said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Domjahn added. “We came home and watched it more on the news; it was just unbelievable.”

“It’s something you probably won’t see in Minnesota ever again,” Dzurik said. “It was just shocking.”

By the time they got home, Vicky Rajewsky wasn’t able to talk to the boys much, but said she wasn’t mad at her son for going against what she had told them,

Vicky Rajewsky admitted that if something historical in the making is happening, sometimes you just have to do what your gut tells you, and go check it out.

“It’s surreal that we were actually down there for something like that,” Michael Rajewsky said.

“I think it had a little bit of an impact on them,” Vicky said about the four. “They were quiet and respectful – shocked was the biggest thing though, that something like that could happen, and life as you know it could be changed forever. People who have lost family members . . . it’d be really hard.”

As for the Twins’ game the boys never made it to, the Twins decided to play the game, keeping the 20,000 to 30,000 people who were already at the Metrodome there, and keeping the streets as clear as possible so emergency personnel could get through to do their jobs.

The Twins lost that ballgame 5-3 in extra innings, and did postpone its Thursday afternoon game against the Royals, as well as its scheduled groundbreaking ceremony for the new ballpark.

“We want to be respectful to the people who are trying to work on the situation, and out of respect for those lives that have been lost and those people it’s impacted,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said Wednesday. “We didn’t think playing baseball tomorrow (Thursday) would be the right thing.”

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