Jeremy Renner has the iron will of a Marvel superhero. For the first time since his near-fatal snowplow accident, the actor detailed the events that led to the January incident in Jeremy Renner: The Diane Sawyer Interview – A Story of Terror, Survival and Triumph on ABC. “If I was there on my own, it would have been a horrible way to die,” Renner told Diane Sawyer.
The special opens with scenes of snowy Nevada, near where Renner owns property, followed by harrowing audio from the 911 call that notified authorities of the accident. “Someone’s in front of my house on the ground, he got run over by a snowcat,” a caller says. “He’s been crushed.” It’s the voice of Rich Kovach, Renner’s neighbor who was one of the first to appear on the scene and told Sawyer that Renner’s head “appeared to me to be cracked wide open.” “I could see white,” said Kovach, detailing the severity of the injuries. “I don’t know if that was his skull…. His eye looked like it had been pushed out.” Soon after, Kovach was joined by his partner, Barb Fletcher, who told Sawyer that as the trio waited for the ambulance to arrive Renner began to lose color and his breath got increasingly shallow. “I really feel like he did pass away for a couple seconds, I really do,” said Fletcher.
“If I was there on my own, that would have been a horrible way to die, and surely I would have,” a wheelchair-bound Renner told Sawyer. “Surely. But I wasn’t alone. I was with my nephew, sweet Alex. And the rest of the calvary came.” Sawyer spoke with Renner’s 27-year-old nephew, Alexander Fries, who told her of his close relationship with his “Uncle Jer,” “He’s always been there in like all the ways that matter.”
The special then pivots to the events leading up to the accident, showing footage of Renner and his extended family celebrating the New Year on his property in the Reno area, playing on snowmobiles and ATVs. There’s even footage of Renner just 13 minutes before the accident occurred, describing the morning as “beautiful” and taking a video of the snowy mountain. The life-threatening incident began when Renner and Fries attempted to tow a Ford Raptor out of the snow with his 1988 PistenBully snowcat. After getting the truck to its desired location on a paved area out of the snow, Renner turned the 14,000-pound piece of equipment around, opened the door, and stood on, as he puts it, “the dang track” of the snowcat in an attempt to get a better view of Fries when the snowcat began to slip on the ice. Renner worried for his nephew’s safety, as Fries was caught between the truck and the snowcat rolling toward him. “He’s gonna get sandwiched by [the snowcat] and the truck, so I try to jump back in the dang thing and disengage it,” says Renner. “You should be inside the vehicle when you’re operating it,” Renner said in hindsight. “It’s kind of like driving a car with your foot outside the car.” He also noted that he made a grave error when did not turn on the parking brake. “It is what it was, and it was my mistake. And I paid for it.”
As Renner explained, what happened next was “a blur,” as he lost his footing and fell off the side of the machine. Unfortunately, the Hawkeye star was not able to get back into the driver’s seat and was hurled forward by the moving snowcat. “Not today, motherfucker” is what Renner said he screamed shortly before getting crushed. “I was awake through every moment. It’s exactly like you’d imagine it would feel like,” Renner said. “I was on asphalt and ice. I wish I was on snow. It felt like someone took the wind out of you.”
According to Sawyer, the snowplow rolled over the entirety of Renner’s body. “I could see my eye with my other eye,” he said. After rolling over Renner, the snowcat crashed into the truck, but by this point Fries had managed to get into the truck before he was sandwiched. Fries didn’t have his cell phone and many of the neighboring houses are empty, but “in the first of many miracles,” as Sawyer put it, Fries notices activity in Kovach’s garage and runs for help. Twenty-one minutes after the call to 911, an ambulance arrived and soon after, a helicopter lifted Renner to a Reno hospital.