It had been a long day for Denver International Airport TSA Canine Handler Marcus Dierlam. All he wanted was to pick up some takeout at a large truck stop in Bennett, Colorado, get home and make it a short night. But it wasn’t the short night he envisioned.
As Dierlam walked into the truck stop café, a man came from behind looking “pretty ragged,” carrying some luggage. “I held the door open for him and as he went in, and I kind of asked the man, ‘Hey, is everything alright?’ He quickly explained ‘Yeah, we were in a car accident down the road a ways.’”
“I thought to myself, like man, this is a rough situation,” Dierlam recalled. So he continued the conversation asking, “Is everything okay? Are you guys going to be able to get a ride?”
Dierlam learned the couple was returning from a family vacation and had been on the road for about 12 hours when their brand new Subaru was hit by another car on an on ramp and was undrivable.
“We were hit so hard that my head hit the headrest and broke it off, and [the headrest] then hit my daughter in the head,” said mom, Jackie Klein.
Once paramedics, state police and the local fire department cleared the Kleins, the family quickly experienced another problem – bad cellphone service. They needed to get in range of cell service so they could call for a ride back to Boulder, Colorado.
“I was so worried we were going to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with all this luggage,” said Klein.
Finally, the Kleins – mom, dad, two youngsters and their luggage – were loaded into an ambulance and driven 45 minutes to a huge truck stop, the size of a small rural town, in Bennett, Colorado.
“We were extremely tired and weary from the day's events and banged up from the accident,” said Klein. “We were unable to secure an Uber or Lyft, and our friends were all on vacation or suffering from COVID.”
As Dierlam continued to talk with the disheveled group, he thought what he would think if he were in their shoes. “I was just in a car, and now it is wrecked. My wife and my two kids are all banged up. I would want something to happen pretty quickly to get my family home.”
And Dierlam made it happen … quickly.
It was around 8:30 p.m. and getting dark when Dierlam knew he had to help these people.
“Let me take my wife and our dinner home, and I’ll be right back to take you home,” Dierlam told the Kleins. Returning with his Jeep, he loaded the luggage and the Klein family and headed off to Boulder.
“At that moment, he became our angel on earth,” remembered Klein. “He loaded us and what possessions we took from our undrivable car and drove us the last hour to our home so we could rest and heal safely. He was extremely kind and supportive and took hours out of his day to help us perfect strangers.”
“They were definitely shaken up, and I thought I had to get the family home,” remembered Dierlam. “It just kind of dawned on me pretty quickly. I didn't want them sitting around in a McDonald's and dwelling on what had happened.”
Editor’s Note: Marcus Dierlam, a former Air Force canine handler of nine years serving in Japan and Qatar, began his TSA career in 2019 in the TSA Secure Flight National Transportation Vetting Center before serving in his current position as a canine handler at Denver International Airport.
By Wayne Carey, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs