By Mark Fischenich The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

MANKATO, Minn. — Jacob Siem’s plan on Oct. 15 was to roll into the South Street Saloon, meet some friends and have some food and drink.

Instead, Siem came across a Mankato police officer in a dangerous struggle with a suspect, grabbed and held the suspect until police back-up arrived and ended up with one of the city’s highest honors — the Award of Valor.

Officer Dan Grassman was on foot patrol in Mankato’s downtown entertainment district when he saw a fight and identified Bryan Austin Meuangsaksith, 22, of Mankato man as the aggressor. In attempting to detain Meuangsaksith, Grassman lost his footing and the man landed on top of the officer.

“Grassmann then observed a male party wearing a dark-colored shirt push/tackle Meuangsaksith and knocked him to the ground off to Grassmann’s right side,” according to the criminal complaint. “… Grassmann further reports he observed the male … was holding onto Meuangsaksith’s head in a headlock hold. Grassmann was then able to radio Blue Earth County dispatch and advise other officers that he was actively fighting and also pulled both of Meuangsaksith’s hands behind his back.”

Siem doesn’t have a wrestling background. Born with spina bifida, he uses a wheelchair. And he doesn’t recall making an active choice to get between an apparently aggressive man and a cop who was in a vulnerable position.

“I don’t remember deciding to get involved,” the Eagle Lake man said.

With 15 years in a human services job, though, Siem said he has some experience with unstable people: “I call it ‘Going into work mode.'”

So, he was just trying to create some space between the officer and the suspect when the situation escalated.

It ended with Meuangsaksith on the ground, Siem on top of him and the wheelchair on top of both of them. That was lucky, said Siem, who played wheelchair basketball in high school and he has substantial upper body strength.

“I was able to hold his arms behind his back and hold him until the officer could call for backup,” he said.

Public Safety Director Todd Miller, in presenting the Award of Valor before a packed City Council chambers, said “the officer could have been seriously injured and/or the suspect could have escaped and continued to assault other innocent civilians. Jacob’s quick actions undoubtedly prevented further injury while he risked exposing himself to danger.”

After Meuangsaksith, who is facing a gross misdemeanor charge of fourth degree assault of peace officer, was taken away, Grassman and Siem chatted briefly.

“I made sure he was OK and he made sure I was OK,” Siem said.

Four months later, he said he appreciated the city’s honor: “Basically, I was touched. … I made some jokes after (the incident) that I didn’t even get my name in the paper.”

Siem was honored as part of a ceremony recognizing heroic acts in 2018 by employees of the Department of Public Safety and average citizens alike.

Life Saving Awards went to three civilians and a firefighter who provided first aid to a motorcyclist following a crash on July 5th, and Life Saving Awards also went to three civilians, a firefighter and a police officer who performed CPR and saved the life of a heart attack victim at a local tire store.

Brian Bentdahl of Mankato, Katie Fitzgerald of Kasota and Lacie Hersom of Wells, along with firefighter Jay Kopischke, responded when the motorcyclist and a vehicle collided at the intersection of Riverfront Drive and Madison Avenue on July 5.

Miller said the man had a severe leg injury and was bleeding profusely. The three civilians witnessed the accident and immediately responded, devising a make-shift tourniquet to minimize the bleeding until firefighter Kopischke arrived.

“Without the quick thinking and willingness to render aid by these individuals, the victim could have entered shock, suffered massive blood loss and potential death,” the citation stated.

Life Saving Awards also went to civilians Jessica Beyer of Mankato, Justin Willemsen of St. Peter and Ryan Jensen of Mankato; to firefighters Paul Wedel and Mark Bergman; and to police officer James Eggersdorfer for their response to a heart attack at Tire Associates on Sept. 29.

“Beyer found the employee behind a service counter,” Miller said. “She yelled for help and began CPR.”

With the man barely breathing, Beyer and Willemsen and Jensen, who are Tire Associates employees, performed CPR until police officer Eggersdorfer and firefighters Wedel and Bergman arrived. The first responders used a defibrillator and took over CPR, and assisted a Gold Cross ambulance crew until the man’s pulse returned.

“With the fast action of the customer and employees to begin lifesaving measures, as well as continuing efforts by Mankato Public Safety, the patient’s life was saved,” the citation stated.

For the same incident, Distinguished Service Awards were presented to Tire Associates employee Zach Moehrke and police officer Katelyn Kaiser “for showing empathy, compassion and altruism to the civilians involved.” That included caring for Beyer’s pre-school daughter while Beyer assisted with CPR, moving her away from the traumatic scene to a quiet place with a television and snacks, Miller said.

On Monday night, the heart attack victim was standing in the back of the council chambers, not far from the motorcyclist.

“I’d like to thank everybody,” he said.

Miller offered a similar sentiment.

“It takes an entire community to really make your community a safe and a healthy place,” he said.

©2019 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

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