FORT IRWIN, Calif. — What began as a typical commute home for two Fort Irwin Army Medical Command Soldiers quickly turned into a tense and potentially life-saving evening when they came across a serious accident.
Staff Sgt. Sydney Norris and Maj. Vernice Favor-Williams were carpooling together from their duty station at Fort Irwin to their homes near Victorville, about an hour and a half away. About three exits from their home exit, they suddenly saw debris flying through the air. They immediately knew an accident had taken place.
At the scene of the crash, they saw that a tractor-trailer truck had collided with a sedan. Without hesitation, Favor-Williams and Norris decided to offer help.
“We pulled over and ran to the vehicle, making sure it was safe to go near it, and tried to talk to the driver,” Norris recalled. “He was very out of it. At first, he told us there was a second person in the vehicle with him, but when we checked, there was no one else. I got in and started [cervical spine stabilization]. Major Favor-Williams tried to keep him alert and awake and talking to us.”
According to Norris, the driver had sustained cuts and had blood on his face and head. The collision had smashed vehicle in a such a way that the dashboard stereo had been driven almost to the injured driver’s chest, and his legs were crushed beneath the dashboard.
Norris, a combat medic and noncommissioned officer in charge of the Fort Irwin’s Javier Villanueva Troop Medical Clinic, and Favor-Williams, a nurse and officer in charge of the Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security section of Weed Army Community Hospital, were the first on the scene. They cared for the injured driver until emergency crews could arrive.
“Nobody was there yet except the truck driver,” Favor-Williams said. “[The driver] was slumped over, the horn was honking, and the engine was revving. Norris kept holding the C-Spine. I did a neuro assessment, asking him his name, date, and if he knew what had happened. I also asked him to squeeze my hand, which he was able to do. I just kept telling him, ‘My name is Vernice. This is Sydney. We’re trying to help you.’”
All the while, traffic continued to speed past. Eventually, another Soldier stopped to help, and he assisted Favor-Williams with directing traffic around the scene while Norris kept the patient stabilized.
“We were just trying to make the scene safe,” Favor-Williams remembered. “Traffic was going by so fast it blew my hat off. I had to chase it down on the highway. That’s how fast cars were still going around us.”
To the Soldiers, time seemed to drag as they waited for additional help. They estimate it was approximately 30 minutes before an ambulance arrived.
Responding officer David Burke of the California Highway Patrol commended the Soldiers’ actions.
“When I arrived on scene, I saw one of them holding the [spine stabilization] and the other helping with traffic,” Burke said. “It was actually a big help to me because the other officer who arrived on scene had to leave for another accident. So I was able to continue my investigation knowing [the Soldiers] were there and assisting.”
When emergency crews arrived, they had to cut the injured driver from the vehicle. He was taken to a local hospital for further treatment. He survived, possibly due to the rapid assistance provided by Norris and Favor-Williams.
Norris and Favor-Williams said they never questioned their decision to stop for the accident.
“I stop and help at every accident I see,” Norris said. “I don’t think it’s because I’m a medic. I think it’s in our nature as Soldiers to help. You can’t assume the next person is going to stop.”
Favor-Williams explained that it wasn’t just because they are military and medical professionals that they wanted to offer help.
“I would never pass by an accident,” Favor-Williams said. “I always think, what if that was my loved one? I would want people to stop and help.”
Both Soldiers said they now plan to keep an emergency kit in their vehicles. They recommend that others do the same.
“These are my family,” Favor-Williams said. “Every American is my brother and sister. I’ve served overseas, and if I can face up to the enemy for two years, I can stop and help my fellow Americans.”