BAXTER — When three teenage boys went snowmobiling March 3 in rural Brainerd — what they encountered was something most people don’t think they’ll ever discover.
A horrible snowmobile crash that severely injured two men from the Twin Cities area who were laying in the snow — one unconscious and the other in pain — with their demolished snowmobiles’ parts strewn throughout the crash scene. The scene was an open field off Crow Wing County Road 142 that is near a designated snowmobile trail by the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and the Crow Wing County Highway Department building, just on the outskirts of Brainerd.
The teenage boys — Robby Pike, 14, a ninth-grader at the Brainerd High School South Campus and the son of Bryan and Sharon Pike of Brainerd; Caden Johnson, 14, a ninth-grader at the Brainerd High School South Campus and the son of Josh and Katie Johnson of Baxter; and Will Schultz, 13, an eighth-grader at Forestview Middle School and the son of Doug and Tammy Schultz of Baxter — were the ones who first came across the crash that injured, Joseph Novick, 47, Burnsville, and Richard Mills III, 27, of Minneapolis. Novick was airlifted by North Memorial Aircare to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, where he was in serious condition Friday. Mills was in fair condition Friday at Essentia Health-St. Joseph Medical Center in Brainerd.
The teenage boys, who are in the Brainerd Nordic Ski program together, planned a day of fun March 3 to go on their first parent-approved snowmobile trip together. They were excited. The boys took off from Robby’s home in Oak Lawn Township. The boys took off on their snowmobiles to the field by the airport because of the big hill that was there and they wanted to take their smaller, non-motorized sleds to go sliding down the hill. The boys spent about 45 minutes sliding down the hill, and Robby would use his snowmobile to bring the boys back up the hill.
All of a sudden, the boys saw snowmobile parts that were “everywhere” in the snow and decided to check it out. That’s when they saw the two injured men and their demolished snowmobiles.
The boys checked to see if the men were OK. They noticed that one man was unconscious and one, who lost his helmet, was breathing heavily, sounding like he was “snoring.” The boys called 911 without hesitation. The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s office was called at 3:02 p.m.
Caden said the 911 dispatcher told him to hold Mills head steady until help arrived, as the man was trying to move. Robby went back and forth between the two men to help and Will took the snowmobile to the road to help guide the emergency responders to the crash scene.
“It was just the two accident guys and us,” said Robby. “There was nobody in sight. We kept asking them if they were OK and we asked them what their names were. We told them that help was on the way.”
Will said the emergency personnel used his snowmobile to get to the scene until the Brainerd Fire Department arrived and brought their four-wheel track vehicle. Caden said when paramedics arrived on the scene that they asked him to continue to hold Mills’ head, until they took Mills out with the four-wheel track vehicle.
“The whole thing is kind of a blur,” said Caden. “The helicopter came in and I was like ‘This is crazy.’”
Robby said one of the emergency responders told him that if it wasn’t for them locating the injured men that it was a strong possibility that the men could have died because they could’ve been lying out there all night.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl agreed and said it was likely that the men may have not made it through the night, as the area of the crash does not see a high volume of traffic. The area of the crash is about a quarter-mile off County Road 142 and near a wooded area.
“These boys did a great job helping out,” said Dahl. “It is typical for people to get involved and be willing to help out with these type of situations. They (the boys) knew what to do and they did the right thing by calling 911 ... They acted with heroism.
“These incidents are not fun and our hearts go out to the two families of the men. We hope they make a full recovery.”
Dahl said the details of how the snowmobilers collided is still under investigation.
The teenage boys said that they still plan to go snowmobiling, but they plan to use extra caution after seeing first-hand a snowmobile crash scene.
Robby said, “Crashes can happen and they can be bad.”
“I won’t be going out soon,” Caden said about snowmobiling, who mentioned that his parents commented to him before he left that “speed kills,” words that now have extra meaning.
Katie Peterson said when her son Caden called about the crash she initially thought he was joking as he talked about the crash and that there was a helicopter on scene. But then she could hear all the people in the background and knew he wasn’t joking.
Doug Schultz said he and all the parents are proud of their boys and how they responded to such a tragic crash scene.
“This was their first outing on their own and they responded well,” he said.