St. Paul man dies following single-vehicle accident
By Ryan Gueningsman
INDEPENDENCE, MN “It was like something out of a movie . . . you’re sitting there watching, but you don’t really see it.”
Tony Kaunzner of Robbinsdale and his girlfriend, Tammy Gilbert, were the first two people to stop at the scene of a single-vehicle accident Tuesday around 12:39 p.m. in Independence on Highway 12 near Hennepin County Road 92.
Harold Pugh, 94, of St. Paul, lost his life as a result of the accident.
Kaunzner and Gilbert were on their way from Robbinsdale to Delano to check out motorcycles for Kaunzner’s birthday, that is in two weeks.
When driving west on Highway 12, Gilbert saw the vehicle that was traveling two cars in front of them go into the ditch and told Kaunzner to stop.
“There was a cloud of smoke and water, and the telephone pole went flying in the air,” Gilbert said. “I started dialing 911 and he (Kaunzner) jumped out to go help.”
“I didn’t even really see it,” Kaunzner said. “She (Gilbert) first said she’d seen something go in the ditch. All I’d seen was the top of a telephone pole shoot across the highway like a slingshot, being it was still connected to the wire.”
Kaunzner went down into the ditch to attempt to rescue Pugh.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, I just jumped in,” Kaunzner said, adding that he tried talking to Pugh. People from the shoulder of the road who had stopped were also attempting to tell Kaunzner what to do or not to do. He said he was thankful when a firefighter who happened to be driving by came down into the ditch area to assist.
“Whoever that fire department guy was, I want to thank him,” Kaunzner said.
While tending to Pugh, Kaunzner himself became stuck in the mud, but was able to walk out of the ditch and back up to the shoulder of the road once emergency personnel arrived. North Memorial Ambulance arrived on the scene and took over the care of Pugh.
Pugh was placed on a backboard and North Air Care transported him to North Memorial Hospital, according to West Hennepin Public Safety (WHPS). Pugh later died at North Memorial Hospital from the injuries sustained in the crash.
According to witness statements, Pugh’s vehicle, traveling westbound on Highway 12, continued to drive straight off the road and hit a driveway approach. The vehicle then became airborne, hit a power pole, rolled over, and landed on its wheels in one-and-a-half feet of water.
As a result of the accident, Highway 12 was closed for two hours and traffic was diverted. A second minor accident also took place at the same time authorities were investigating the initial one, just west of the Highway 12/Hennepin County Road 92 intersection.
Assisting WHPS was the Maple Plain Fire Department, as well as police departments from Orono, Medina, Minnetrista, Mound, Three Rivers Park District, and Hennepin County Water Patrol.
“Maple Plain Fire used the jaws of life to free the victim from the vehicle,” commented WHPS Director Ray McCoy.
Kaunzner had gotten off work early that day and said he and Gilbert decided to go to Delano to look at motorcycles. After leaving the scene of the accident, they made it to the bike shop, but Kaunzner admitted his heart wasn’t in it and that he couldn’t spend much time there after what they’d just been through.
“It wasn’t the way we planned on spending our afternoon, that’s for sure . . . as we were leaving (the accident scene), I patted one of the officers on the back and said ‘you can have this job, I’m out of here. That’s enough for me,’” Kaunzner said. “That pretty much shot me for the day. I’ve been thinking about that guy ever since.”
Victim is decorated WWII vet, high school graduate at age of 93
News of Harold Pugh’s passing hit his American Legion family and friends hard. A decorated veteran of WWII, a former postal carrier, and current dance instructor, Pugh was also honored at age 93 with a diploma from the Roseville School District
“He was just a delightful man with a charming smile,” said Roseville Schools Superintendent John Thein. “They’re having this greatest generation celebration, and Harold was just a prime example of that greatest generation he gave a lot to his community and his country, and was a real model.”