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Good Samaritan: Langseth doesn’t consider himself a hero — he was just in the right place at the right time

WORTHINGTON -- A rural Worthington man is being hailed a hero for his efforts in helping to rescue a truck driver from a fiery crash Monday on Minnesota 60 near Heron Lake.

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Paul Langseth, of rural Worthington, is being recognized as a hero by the Minnesota State Patrol after his efforts to assist a patrolman in removing an injured driver from a semi tractor on fire following a crash Monday near Heron Lake. Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON - A rural Worthington man is being hailed a hero for his efforts in helping to rescue a truck driver from a fiery crash Monday on Minnesota 60 near Heron Lake.

Paul Langseth, who shared a photo of the crash scene with the Daily Globe earlier this week, was sought by the Minnesota State Patrol for his efforts. A Wednesday posting on the patrol’s Facebook page seeking information on the good Samaritan had generated more than 4,000 shares and 200 comments in less than 24 hours.
By Thursday noon, Langseth had been personally thanked by the patrolman he assisted, and plans were in the works for a more formal recognition of his efforts.

The Monday afternoon crash occurred when Michael Junker, of Trimont, was driving a 2003 Volvo semi eastbound on Minnesota 60. In an attempt to avoid a crash with vehicles stopped for a funeral procession, Junker struck the back corner of a 2014 Freightliner semi driven by Michael Schultz of Lake Crystal.
On impact, the semi driven by Junker jack-knifed and skidded down the left lane of eastbound Minnesota 60. Fortunately, no vehicles were waiting in the left lane.
Fast action in slow motion
Langseth said he and his wife, Leanne, were running late for a concert at the Minnesota State Fair when they saw a state trooper pull onto the shoulder. He then parked his squad car across the two lanes of eastbound traffic north of Heron Lake to stop traffic for an approaching funeral procession.
“He got out of the car and started directing traffic on the other side of the road (westbound Minnesota 60) to pull over,” Langseth detailed.
As the couple waited in their car, vehicles continued to line up behind them in the right lane of travel and wait for the procession to cross.
“We were sitting there chatting and we hear a boom - a crash-boom,” Langseth said. “I look in my rearview mirror and I see this semi sliding down the highway… . I could see it was a tanker. I thought it was petroleum.”
Having earlier shifted his vehicle into park, Langseth fumbled with the gear shaft before driving his car further to the right.
“Before I could get out of the way, the semi was sliding even with us and sliding into the median,” he detailed. “The fuel tank was resting in the right lane about three cars back. One of the guys following us said they could feel the heat through their car window.”
After the semi came to rest in the median, Langseth said he asked the patrolman if assistance was needed and was advised to stay back.
The patrolman went to check on the condition of the driver of the Freightliner, and when he returned to the Volvo, he noticed a small fire coming from the cab.
“He said we had to get the driver out,” Langseth shared. “The door was jammed, but we were able to pull it open.”
The driver, Junker, was littered with cuts from the broken glass. His right leg was jammed up underneath the steering wheel, and he was complaining of back pain.
After the trooper and Langseth freed him from the cab, they slid him back onto the eastbound highway.
“We had one nurse come - I think from the funeral procession,” Langseth said. “At that point, the truck went ‘whoosh.’ We could feel the heat, so we had to move him again.”
Within minutes, emergency responders were on the scene. Both the Heron Lake and Windom fire and ambulance assisted, along with law enforcement from Heron Lake, Windom and Jackson County.
After Junker had been placed in the ambulance, the Langseths were free to leave the scene.
“We basically followed the ambulance into Windom,” he said.
Langseth called the Windom hospital on their drive home Tuesday, only to learn the patient had been transferred to a Sioux Falls, S.D., hospital. After calling the Sioux Falls hospital - and then explaining he was the one to assist in pulling Junker from the wreckage - Langseth spoke with Junker.
The driver was released from the hospital on Wednesday.
Verified a hero
When Langseth received a phone call from Sgt. Ron Richards (SP50) Thursday noon, he had to answer three questions: What color was the semi tractor that burned; what did they have to do to get the door open; and what did Langseth have in his hands when the trooper first encountered him.
Upon answering all three questions, Richards confirmed he found the good Samaritan he was looking for.
Capt. Bruce Verdoes, from the Marshall office of the Minnesota State Patrol, said Monday’s crash could have been a “very tragic event.”
“We want to recognize (Langseth’s) contribution and heroism,” Verdoes said. “That’s what we consider it. He put his life in harm’s way. When we can get some assistance, it’s much appreciated.”
Before noon Thursday, Verdoes had received calls from six other individuals who had called in to report they were also on the scene, likely due to the social media sharing that had been done.
“We don’t want people to go into situations where the likelihood is they could be injured,” Verdoes added. “This situation turned out in a positive way.”
Langseth said he doesn’t consider himself a hero - he just did what was necessary.
“I was there,” he said. “It was half an hour or an hour of my time.
“To me, the people who daily have to care for a spouse or even a kid that’s got life challenges, is a bigger responsibility than what I did.”

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Flames billow from the semi tractor after it came to rest in the median on Minnesota 60 north of Heron Lake Monday. (Submitted photo)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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