‘It’s just second nature’

MARSHALL – Many years of working as an EMT had convinced Jerry Bottelberghe to always wear a seat belt. The Minneota resident says he’s seen first-hand how much difference buckling up makes in protecting people from being seriously hurt in a car crash.

By now, he said, “It’s just second nature. I don’t even think about it.”

It was a habit that likely saved Bottelberghe’s life when he was in a two-vehicle crash on Minnesota Highway 68 this summer. Bottelberghe survived with no major injuries.

Members of the Minnesota State Patrol presented Bottelberghe with a “Saved By the Belt” award on Tuesday at the Marshall office of North Memorial Ambulance. Since 1999, the State Patrol has recognized crash survivors who were wearing their seat belts, as a way to highlight the importance of buckling up.

On Aug. 27, Bottelberghe was driving from Minneota to Marshall on Minnesota Highway 68, when a westbound Chevrolet Tahoe went into the ditch and then veered back onto the road in front of Bottelberghe’s pickup. Dan DeSmet, manager of North Memorial Ambulance, said it appeared the two vehicles had struck each other “corner to corner, almost.”

“It happened just like that,” Bottelberghe said of the crash. Before he knew it, his own vehicle was in the ditch, which had some water in it at the time.

“Part of the vehicle was in the water,” Bottelberghe said, although he remembered that getting out of the truck wasn’t as big a challenge as crawling out of the steep ditch.

Bottelberghe and DeSmet said the response of law enforcement, fire and ambulance crews played a big part in helping Bottelberghe at the scene of the crash.

“They did a super job,” Bottelberghe said.

Bottelberghe said the crash had him upset enough that he was not an easy patient for medical responders. However, they were able to brace his back and neck and take him to the hospital in Canby. The experience gave him a new perspective on the EMTs’ work, he said.

“Now that I’ve been on both sides (of a crash), I can understand their patience with me,” as well as the care they gave, Bottelberghe said. “I have a lot of respect for the crew who worked on me.”

In the end, Bottelberghe had only some large bruises to show for being in the crash. It could easily have been worse. Without a seat belt, he said, “I’d have been right through the windshield.”