Location: Onalaska, Wisconsin
Date: May 27, 1991
Linda and Ron Schams worked hard over the 1991 Memorial Day weekend in their bait and boating shop in Onalaska, Wisconsin. By Monday night, the only thing on their minds was relaxing at home. Around midnight, the Schams were awakened when the burglar alarm for their shop rang. The alarm system had been installed only recently, due to a series of robberies at the store, which was located just across the railroad tracks from their house.
When Linda dialed the Onalaska Police Department to report the robbery, Ron jumped in his pickup truck, determined to catch the robber(s) in the store. As Ron drove toward the railroad crossing, he saw a train coming down the tracks. Ron was in a hurry. He didn't want his burglar to get away, but if he stopped for the train, that's exactly what would happen. So, Ron went for it--figuring he could make it across the tracks in time to beat the train.
But Ron misjudged the train's speed and distance. As he sped across the tracks, the train slammed into his truck. On impact, the truck flipped over and Ron was ejected from the rear window. He landed in a ditch and the truck landed on top of him.
The conducter, who had witnessed the accident, stopped his train and called 911. Units from the Onalaska Fire Department and Tri-State Ambulance were immediately dispatched to the scene. Just as Linda went out on their deck to see if Ron had reached the shop, the phone rang. It was a 911 dispatcher calling back to ask her about the train wreck. Linda had heard the train whistle blowing, and the burglar alarm was still ringing in the shop. She immediately put two and two together and knew Ron had been hit by the train. "My whole life seemed to stop right there," recalls Linda. "I thought, how do you get out of a truck hit by a train without being in pieces?"
Within minutes, police officers and rescuers arrived. "Get me out of here!" Paramedic Bruce Solberg heard the anguished scream that came from beneath the truck. Solberg knelt under the flatbed and had introduced himself before he realized the victim was someone he'd known for twenty years. Paramedic Dave Blocker, who also knew Ron, crawled under the truck to assist. Blocker felt Ron's ribs and realized the situation was critical. His ribs were all over the place, indicating that Ron's lungs could collapse.
Rescuers were posed with a dilemma. Ron needed to be extricated immediately, but first the truck had to be removed safely. A tow truck arrived on the scene but was unable to reach down far enough to lift the truck out of the ditch. Another big concern was that the truck might shift while being lifted and and fall back on Ron and the paramedics, killing all three.
Solberg and Blocker were advised to come out from under the truck, but they refused, saying they were not going to abandon Ron. By now, Ron's right lung had collapsed and his condition was rapidly deteriorating. Blocker and Solberg, who rated Ron's chances of survival at 5 percent, knew they were out of time. Blocker decided he would have to try lifting the truck with his own hands. With the aids of several firefighters, Blocker positioned himself under the truck and raised the flatbed just high enough for two paramedics to pull Ron out.
Ron was transported to the hospital, where various tests revealed eighteen broken ribs, two punctured lungs, a cracked vertebra, and a shattered shoulder blade. Remarkably, he suffered no major internal injuries.
Ron and Linda were so grateful to everybody involved in saving his life, that after Ron's recovery, they threw a thank-you party. "With the injuries that Ron incurred," says Solberg, "we should have been going to his funeral instead of a party."
Having a second chance at life has changed Ron's outlook. "Anger blinds people," he says. "I had one thing on my mind and that was getting the bad guy. I thought I could beat the train and I didn't rationalize what could happen. I didn't think it through." "There must have been a guardian angel looking out for Ron," says Linda, "because you don't normally tackle a train and come out on the winning side."