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 UMD Police Help at Bridge Collapse Site

Four Officers were Ready to Serve

Mike Brostrom, Ben Stauber, Jacob Willis, and Chris Shovein

Most Americans know that on August 1, 2007 at 6:05 pm, during evening rush hour, a downtown Minneapolis bridge on Interstate 35W collapsed. Eight are known dead and others are missing, more than a week after the span crumbled.

What few people know is that four UMD police officers were called into service at the wreckage site and one officer, Jake Willis, reported for duty a mere 30 hours after the bridge collapsed.

Almost immediately after the disaster, UMD Chief of Police Anne Peterson offered UMD's help to her colleagues at the University of Minnesota Police Department. The next morning, she was notified that UMD help was indeed needed. "They wanted as many officers as I could send, as soon as possible," said Peterson. "By that time, many of the officers on the Minneapolis scene had put in long hours and needed relief." Peterson notified the off-duty UMD officers, Jacob Willis, Ben Stauber, Mike Brostrom, and Chris Shovein, and all four were ready to leave within a very short time.

Upon reaching Minneapolis, the officers were given a tour of the site so they would know what they "were up against," said Brostrom. "We climbed up to a high vantage point and when we got there, none of us spoke for several minutes. I've been to the Grand Canyon and the site was that overwhelming. The staggering size was unthinkable. Cars were suspended. The event was frozen in time... It was eerie." Willis agreed. "None of the pictures do it justice. At night, under lights, the scene looked even more unstable. It was just massive steel and rubble."

Shovein said the smell was distinctive, "On the frontage road, we could see cars that had been burned after they crashed. Even a day later, the smell of wreckage — plastic, gas, engine fluids, was strong. It's hard to describe the scene. There was iron rendered in half, massive steel beams snapped. Far down in the site, the upturned cement trucks looked tiny."

Stauber said the scene recalled another devastating event, "I was in San Francisco during the 1989 earthquake when the freeway collapsed. The bridge in Minneapolis was similar in scope to the earthquake. The I-35 wreckage was chaos. That's all we saw last week, twisted concrete and physical chaos."

University of Minnesota property adjoins the bridge site and Willis took the first overnight shift on perimeter security, relieving other University police. Stauber, Brostrom, and Shovein reported for duty at 7 am on Friday, August 3, for what was to be an eventful day. First Lady Laura Bush surveyed the scene that morning so security was exceptionally tight. "Along with other officers, our job was guard duty and our checkpoint station was on high alert," said Shovein. "We made sure no unauthorized people approached the area. There was Homeland Security, Secret Service, Army Corp of Engineers, police, fire departments, Red Cross volunteers, and federal agencies to assist." Divers, emergency medical teams, and military personnel also joined the scene. Security was heightened because, "President Bush was to arrive the next day, and Laura Bush was already in Minneapolis," said Brostrom. "For the 50 minutes that Laura Bush was on the scene, our job was to seal off the University of Minnesota's W-BOB building."

UMD's officers have been trained to handle mass incidents. Willis said, "It was an extremely complex situation but the whole operation was well coordinated. Our training on critical incidents paid off." Brostrom agreed, "The command center was on top of every development. For an emergency situation, it was really well-planned and well-organized."

"We were impressed by what we saw from fellow officers and first responders,” said Stauber."We knew they dropped everything else in their lives, their obligations, their families, not knowing where they were going or when they would get back. We saw a lot of people who were operating on a lack of sleep, but they were in critical positions, so they needed to keep going." The stress levels on the scene were high because workers were still recovering bodies and the risks were great.

The UMD officers were were among many Minnesotans offering assistance. "We must have seen three dozen other police departments," said Shovein. "It was a testament to the caliber of police officers. They dropped everything to help. They traveled to another community to help people they didn't know." The generosity of Minnesota was evident. "Red Cross volunteers came by several times a day," said Shovein. "They thought of everything, food, water, even sunscreen. Restaurants and stores drove up with food deliveries."

UMD Chief Peterson gives credit to the four UMD officers, "These guys were ready to go. Ben was on vacation and the others were on their days off and within hours they were at the scene. UMD still had 100 percent coverage, but we were able to help our University Police colleagues. We know they would do the same for us. Our sympathies go out to the families affected by this horrible disaster. We're pleased we were able to help out and I am proud that I could count on my guys."

Written by Cheryl Reitan

Posted Aug 10, 2007

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto, slatto@d.umn.edu, 218-726-8830

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