WARREN, Minn. (WCCO) -- Every now and then, someone calls 911 about mysterious objects in the sky.
Most can be explained away as atmospheric conditions or aircraft -- or sometimes just too much whiskey.
But to this day, a Minnesota UFO sighting from the '70s is considered more credible than most, in part because of who called it in.
Marshall County sheriff's deputy Val Johnson was on patrol in the early morning hours of Aug. 27, 1979, when he spotted something strange along a rural highway.
The president of the Marshall County Historical Society, Kent Broten, knows the story well.
"What (Deputy Johnson) saw was a bright object, maybe like a foot in diameter, about three and a half feet off the ground," Broten said. "As he explained it in the news reports, what was there all of a sudden was here, so the light just shot at him, engulfed his car in light and blinded him."
Thirty-six years later, the deputy's damaged squad car is still what brings most people in, to the Marshall County Museum.
Herb Maurstad, a fellow deputy at the time, is still at a loss to explain how the car's antennas became warped at different angles, the windshield was smashed, a headlight broken and the hood dented.
The dashboard clock stopped for 14 minutes, as did Deputy Johnson's watch, before starting up again.
Maurstad said an expert from Ford Motor Company inspected the windshield and said the cracks were unusual. He said it's not the type of shattering you would get if you hit the windshield with a hammer, for example.
"You can see that it wasn't Val Johnson's head that hit there because it's in the wrong place," Maurstad said. "Way too low."
Broten stops short of calling it an alien encounter.
"It doesn't mean it's from outer space," he said. "It's just an unidentified flying object hit it and it just hasn't been explained, so it's unidentified."
Johnson was treated for welder-type burns to his eyes. His supervisor at the time was Sheriff Dennis Brekke, who is now retired.
"We do believe that our deputy had an encounter with something that we haven't been able to explain yet on this date," Brekke said, "and there's a lot of interest because of that, I guess."
The Internet has brought about new interest over the past several years.
Conspiracy theorists are still trying to solve what law enforcement, mechanical inspectors and the Center for UFO Studies could not.
"I don't know what happened," Brekke said. "I know in my own mind I did the best job we could, me and my department, to investigate and find out what went on. And all we found out is: We don't know."
Maurstad, who later became Marshall County Sheriff, said he now believes in UFOs.
"Yeah, I kind of do," he said. "There's got to be something more than us around."
Johnson is now retired and living in western Wisconsin.
Reached by phone, Johnson said there's already so much information out there, he really prefers not to talk about this anymore.
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