Civilian ends pursuit with act of courage
Each day we make decisions. Some are good, others are not. And then there’s the decisions that affect the lives of others.
On the morning of Friday, Sept. 18, Richard Olsen, of Spring Grove, began a day much like any other. He got ready for the day and reported to work in Blooming Prairie, where Elcor Construction, of Rochester, is completing street construction projects. Olsen has been with Elcor Construction for about eight months. This particular day, however, would prove to be far more eventful than he expected.
That morning, Olsen was traveling from one location to another in a company pay loader. He’d just dropped off a valve and was en route to collect some bolts for another aspect of the project. That’s when he saw a red pick-up barreling down a residential street in Blooming Prairie, heading toward Blooming Prairie Elementary School, just as school was about to begin.
The chain of events leading to this moment all began earlier that morning between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. when a Mower County Deputy pulled over a man, Jerry Lee Castilleja, age 45, on Interstate 90. That’s when Castilleja made a bad decision. After intentionally backing into the deputy’s vehicle, he fled the scene, beginning a high-speed chase through Brownsdale and onto U.S. Highway 218, bound for Steele County. During the chase, he hit another deputy’s vehicle, drove through a cornfield and managed to evade stop spikes. At times his speed exceeded 100 miles per hour.
As the chase neared Blooming Prairie, deputies knew that an especially dangerous situation was unfolding. With the knowledge that it was a school day and many children were traveling to school, they called off the chase. Castilleja, however, was desperate to escape and drove into Blooming Prairie, turning onto residential streets and rapidly approaching the elementary school, still traveling at a high rate of speed.
Olsen said he noticed the vehicle when it was about two blocks away. “About half a block down from him, I saw cops, and knew he was trying to get away,” Olsen said. The truck turned onto the same street as the school, and Olsen knew he was going way too fast.
“I thought, ‘He’s going to hit someone, or he’s going to hit my pay loader,’” said Olsen. So Olsen made a decision to intervene. As the vehicle approached Olsen’s pay loader on the left, preparing to pass him, Olsen turned the machine suddenly, and the suspect was unable to avoid colliding with the pay loader’s bucket. The crash forced Castilleja to stop, effectively ending the pursuit. Bystanders were in a state of disbelief as law enforcement descended on the scene, which was littered with stray ears of corn as a result of the pursuit through the cornfield. Thankfully, despite the fact that the chase ended just outside the elementary school, no one was hurt.
Olsen said he didn’t have much time to consider his decision to intervene. “I was more worried about the kids than anything else,” he said. Olsen has three kids of his own, and his girlfriend also has three children.
“We are very thankful that he took it upon himself to stop that truck before we had a person or child injured,” said Blooming Prairie Police Chief Greg Skillestad. “We really appreciate what he did.”
Sheriff Amazi also expressed her appreciation for Olsen’s actions. “He certainly put an end to a very dangerous chase, and we appreciate that,” Amazi said.
Olsen was baffled by the Castilleja’s decision to drive so fast nearby the school when children were present and said he is glad that Castilleja is now in custody. As for his own decision to intervene, Olsen shrugs and chuckles at the mention of the word “hero.”
“I’m not a hero,” he said. “I know anybody else on this crew would have done the exact same thing.”
Regardless, Olsen’s actions to put himself in danger in hopes of protecting the nearby students is something the community is extremely grateful for. Thanks to his quick thinking and his act of bravery, the chase came to an end before anyone was hurt or killed, and Castilleja is now in custody in Mower County and awaits multiple felony charges.