Bridge Collapse Rescuer a Finalist for National Honor

Mon March 17, 2008 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) An unsung hero of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse is up for a national honor.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Matthew Miller is a finalist for its first Above and Beyond Citizen honors. Retired Gen. Colin Powell presented the award on March 25.

Miller, then 21, was working in a construction crew last Aug. 1 when the bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others. Among those killed was Miller’s co-worker, Greg Jolstad.

Authorities say over the next four hours, Miller helped save at least eight survivors — including fellow workers and a Savage family of four that rode the bridge down.

“I’m not really a big hero. I don’t need to have that label,” Miller told the Star Tribune.

Miller, a senior at Bethel University in Arden Hills, said other uninjured workers in his crew who responded in the first chaotic moments after the bridge collapsed also deserve credit. But he was singled out by Tom Sloan, a vice president at Progressive Contractors Inc., the company that had the resurfacing contract on the bridge.

“Matt’s name came up more than anybody’s,” Sloan told officials at Bethel, which nominated Miller for the national award last fall.

Miller is “a very quiet, unassuming person” who sought no awards or credit, said Sherie Lindvall, vice president of communications at Bethel.

Miller said his back was turned when the bridge went down. With all the noise from heavy equipment, Miller — who had his earplugs in — said he didn’t hear anything.

“I looked at the traffic stop, and then I noticed that a female in a car was kind of freaking out. She was waving her hands. I thought she was crazy. Then she rolled down her window and said the cars were ’bouncing.’ I said, ’Bouncing, what are you talking about?’” Miller told the Star Tribune.

Miller said he turned and saw nothing except dust and smoke.

“After about a minute, I realized there was no more bridge. So then I went from chaos mode to panic,” he said.

Miller worked his way down into the river gorge and jumped down an 8-ft. (2.4 m) embankment, grabbing a tree branch to break his fall.

“There were screams, blood, everything was down there,” Miller recalled. “I didn’t even know where the heck I was running. I just kept on running.”

When he got to the place he calls Ground Zero, Miller said, “There was eight lanes of concrete hanging 15 feet above me.”

“I said, ’God, help me not to focus on that piece of concrete, that piece of highway hanging above my head.’ From there, I didn’t look up,” he told the newspaper.

Miller started getting people out of cars that had come crashing down with the bridge. He said everyone he helped was alive, although there were “more than one with their eyes rolling into the backs of their heads.”

He later would splash into the water to help land boats that were coming in from the river, carrying victims, rescuers and other construction workers.

“My adrenaline was pumping,” Miller said. “I didn’t stop and think. That was up to the Lord. I lifted some people I know I couldn’t lift now. I just reacted.”

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