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Minnesota family grateful as bystander gave care to National Guardsman in his final moments

Master Sgt. David Thomas Greiner of Garfield was killed in a May 14 car accident near Hinckley on his way to Duluth to drill with the National Guard.

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Brothers David Greiner, right, and Jason Greiner met up in Kuwait in 2014 when David was on his way to Afghanistan. Jason was stationed in Kuwait and said they weren't going to pass up the chance to get together. (Contributed)
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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — The family of a National Guardsman from Garfield, Minn., killed in a car wreck is expressing their appreciation to a bystander who sat and prayed with him during his final moments, and to first responders who covered his body with an American flag.

“It’s that light-in-the-dark kind of a thing,” said Jason Greiner of Farmington, Minn., the younger brother of Master Sgt. David Thomas Greiner, who was on his way to Duluth for a weekend of Guard exercises when he was killed. “I just want to get it out there to the community and the world that these good people are still out there.”

David Greiner, 45, was going to retire in October after 20 years of military service, his brother said. His career began as a helicopter mechanic for the U.S. Air Force and included two deployments to Afghanistan with the National Guard.

He died after a motorist heading the other direction on Interstate 35 south of Hinckley, Minn., crossed the median and crashed into his vehicle.

Jason Greiner said a motorist named Sean pulled over to help. A veteran himself, and a former firefighter, Sean told the family that his heart dropped when he saw David’s National Guard uniform in the vehicle and realized the crash victim was a fellow service member. Sean got law enforcement permission to sit in the passenger seat to offer what comfort he could.

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“I stayed with him, talked to him and prayed with him,” Sean said in a message to David’s widow, Jess Greiner. “I stayed with him until I was asked to leave by a law enforcement officer. … I wanted to reach out … and let you know that your husband was not alone.”

Jason Greiner said he was grateful that Sean was with his brother, and also for the law enforcement response.

The two people in the other car suffered life-threatening injuries and were flown by helicopter to Twin Cities hospitals.

When law enforcement realized the accident victim was in the military, they quickly figured that he must have been heading to Duluth, said Pine County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Grice, who also had given Sean permission to sit with David. They knew that the 148th Fighter Wing was having training exercises that weekend. It turned out that it was David’s unit.

Grice said the first responders fell quiet, and then someone said they needed an American flag, and then someone else made calls and another person went to the hardware store in nearby Hinckley. When the hardware store realized what the flag was for, it donated the flag.

The flag was used to cover David Greiner’s body.

“Every single person on that crash scene stopped what they were doing and surrounded David and gave our respects to him,” Grice said.

Then they all stood there, a dozen or more people, hats in hands, silently waiting until the funeral home arrived.

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“Whether you’re military or law enforcement or part of EMS or the fire department, there’s such a huge sacrifice that every one of those members gives,” he said. “It’s also a sacrifice for the family and we want to make sure that we honor the sacrifice.”

When he wasn’t with the National Guard, David worked construction, excavation and masonry, primarily with Bitzan-Ohren Construction in Alexandria, Jason Greiner said.

Jason said his brother was a quiet guy who never talked much, but was always willing to pitch in and help family and friends. He was born in Nebraska, and the family moved to Minnesota when he was in middle school. He graduated from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School and completed the diesel mechanics program at Alexandria Technical College in the '90s.

Jason said the whole family is grateful for the care the first responders and Sean showed to David, and that even though none of them felt they deserved recognition, he wanted the public to know about their deeds.

“It’s touched the whole family,” he said. “They deserve thanks, you know?”

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994, and was driven by curiosity to work her way around the United States.
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