INVESTIGATORS: A life-saving tool - KMSP-TV

INVESTIGATORS: A life-saving tool

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Seat belts can be the difference between life and death in a crash, but what happens when it jams and leaves a person trapped in the wreckage?

The flashbacks bring haunting images of bloody limbs and the smell of burning rubber.

"Oh God, how did I survive that?" Megan Mails reflected.

The most terrifying day of her life earned that title last June while Mails was on a lonely stretch of Highway 112 up north.

"I see something coming out of the woods," Mails remembered. "I was pretty sure it was a big animal."

She swerved one way and then the other to avoid a collision, but lost control.

"Before I knew it, I was rolling," Mails said.

Her vehicle tumbled over and over, at least 5 or 6 times.

"Every time I would hit the roof, I would hear glass," she recalled. "You'd hear it break."

When the SUV came to a rest, Mails was barely conscious.

"I couldn't open my door," she relayed.

Worse still, the seat belt that saved her was now jammed, holding her prisoner.

"I started to feel a little bit of heat and I didn't know what it was.

Mails was trapped in a vehicle that was on fire. Now think: What would you do if you came across that accident or found yourself in a similar situation? The vehicle is on its side, the tension of the seat belt can be felt -- but it is holding firm. Even so, there's no way to get to the buckle for release.

SCENARIO 1

Fox 9 Investigator Jeff Baillon got buckled into an SUV that then rolled onto its side. The seat belt is locked firmly in place, keeping Baillon safely in his seat -- but even then, it can be difficult to reach the button and be released. It would be even worse if the buckle was jammed -- but a seat belt cutter could save the day.

It isn't easy to use the tiny blade, but it can get a person one step closer to escape. Once free of the belt, the next step is to find an exit -- but gravity will work against a person in that position. Holding the door and climbing out at the same time isn't an option, but a broken window could be.

In the test scenario, tires propped up the test vehicle and created a gap Baillon could squeeze through, but if that window was flush with the ground instead, it'd be necessary to break out a window -- and auto glass is a lot stronger than one might think.

SCENARIO 2

Imagine being in the position a group of elderly women who slid off a highway and into a pond. They were on 911 as the car was sinking, and couldn't open the doors or windows.

Luckily, some brave firemen came to their rescue because first responders always carry a special tool that can quickly knock out a window.

The Fox 9 Investigators turned to the key chain device once again after going into the water for another lesson in escape because it also has a window punch designed for just such an emergency. With water pressure pushing in on the doors and power windows rendered useless, positioning the window punch in the corner and pushing while turning it away to keep glass from flying in worked.

Mails got out of her burning wreck thanks to the help of a Good Samaritan, but she knows it was a miracle that he came along when he did. In fact, the accident happened so far away from civilization that it took an ambulance 45 minutes to get there.

Now, she never drives anywhere without a seat belt cutter and window punch within reach just in case she -- or someone else -- needs it.

There are a variety of seat belt cutting gadgets available, and they can be found at most auto parts stores. The one the Fox 9 Investigators used retails for about $9.

The Fox 9 Investigators extend a thank you to the experts at the Minnesota Highway Safety Center for their assistance and to Collins Brothers Towing, of St. Cloud, for providing the vehicles for this piece.

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