By John Lauritsen, WCCO-TV
FAIRMONT, Minn. (WCCO) — For the first time since he was shot, a Fairmont police officer is talking about what happened.
On Oct. 26, Officer Chad Sanow was shot in the chest while checking on a house fire that was set on purpose. A second bullet also shot and damaged his radio.
Laid out on a table at the Fairmont Police Department on Thursday morning was the bullet-proof vest that saved Sanow’s life. And next to it, was the 1-ounce shotgun slug that almost took it.
“I’ve been married 12 years. I’m happily married and my wife is going to take this journey with me. I get a whole second life to spend with my wife and my two kids. They are 10 and 7 years old and I get to watch them grow,” said Sanow.
The details of what happened that night are becoming clearer. Police said Michael Mathwig set his house on fire and then waited in the dark in a neighbor’s yard, with a shotgun, and a plan to shoot whoever came by.
Sanow said he hadn’t been out of his patrol car for more than 30 seconds before he was shot. He describes the shotgun blast as what it might feel like to get hit by a Mack truck. It knocked him off his feet but he was able to stand up and take cover. He refused to leave the scene and assisted fellow officers and fire fighters who were responding.
Investigators later found guns planted around Mathwig’s property. They believe he had been planning the ambush for a long time.
“He had a detailed plan and this was an awful incident. It was a definite ambush,” said Chief Greg Brolsma of the Fairmont Police Department.
On Thursday, the company that made Sanow’s vest, First Choice Armor, awarded him with a new one.
Sanow credits the vest with saving his life and thanks other first responders who showed up to help him.
He also thanked God that his picture won’t be on the wall next to the officers that have passed away, including his former German Shepherd K-9 partner.
Sanow is eager to return to work and to fight for the city he loves.
“We are a family. My dad, my brother is a volunteer fireman, my other brother is a deputy sheriff so we fight the fight as a family. We fight for each other and to protect our communities. We fight together, we fight the fight as a family,” said Sanow while holding back tears.
Sanow said that because of the vest, he just had some bruising and his chest is still a little sore.
The Good Samaritan who tried to help that night, Matthew Van Watermulen, was shot in the abdomen. He was released the next day and is doing well.
Brolsma also gave credit to the ambulance and hospital crews that helped Sanow and Van Watermulen. He also believes the situation could not have been contained as quickly if not for the Fairmont Fire Department which battled strong winds to get the fire under control.
Mathwig took his own life after shooting Sanow and Van Watermulen. Police said he had been bitter towards law enforcement for years, but are still unclear on why he planned the ambush.