JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Tech. Sgt. Jessica Lazaro, her husband and two small children were driving along the outer loop of South 1604 the night of Oct. 17 when they passed an accident scene on the side of the rural road.
“We drove past some traffic and I noticed one of the cars was pretty smashed up, so there had already been an accident that occurred and there was no EMS present,” Lazaro recalled.
Lazaro, an Air Force medical technician and instructor for the Air Force Aerospace Medical Services program at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston felt uncomfortable just driving past the scene.
“Being there was no EMS and it looked like there was a pretty significant impact on the car that was on the shoulder of the road, I told my spouse I really think we should stop,” Lazaro said. “So, we turned around.”
After parking their vehicle on the shoulder and ensuring her children were safely asleep, Lazaro grabbed the gloves and first aid kit that she keeps in her car.
While her husband, a prior Air Force security forces specialist, used his cell phone to direct traffic away from the scene, Lazaro went to find the accident victims and began assessing their injuries.
“When I saw the victims there was one 19-year old gentleman who was still inside the car on the passenger seat. He was complaining of trouble breathing and having some chest discomfort,” Lazaro said.
She learned that he was actually the driver and his passengers were standing outside the vehicle still trying to reach 911 to report the accident. Lazaro immediately started to assess the young man for injuries, using his cell phone for a light source as she looked him over.
“I didn’t see any type of significant lacerations, no bleeding, nothing that would visually concern me as far as bleeds,” she said.
Lazaro continued her assessment with an examination of the patient’s chest and took his vital signs.
“His chest probably hit the steering wheel, but for whatever reason, the airbags didn’t deploy,” she noted. “There was definitely significant impact to the car.”
The passengers, who Lazaro determined were not injured, were finally able to get through to 911 so Lazaro provided the patient’s vitals, his condition, and other information to the dispatcher. Although his vital signs and breathing were stable Lazaro noted that the patient was in shock.
While she was relaying the information to dispatch, another accident occurred right in front of her. A small car that had stopped directly across the road from the first accident scene was rear-ended by a large SUV that did not appear to slow down prior to the impact. The smaller car was sent spinning toward Lazaro and her patient but ended up landing in a ditch on the opposite side of the two-lane road.
The driver of the SUV immediately jumped out of his vehicle and began to walk around in a confused state. When Lazaro approached him she could smell alcohol and found alcoholic beverages in the car.
She walked him to another location where he could safely sit and wait for further assistance, then approached the occupants of the second vehicle, two teenagers.
“There was a 17-year-old female and an 18-year-old male, and they were so very blessed.”
Lazaro said the teens had gotten out of the car by the time she reached them and began to assess their injuries.
“The female did not have a lot of injuries, nothing I could visually see on her after I assessed everything, and she was coherent. The 18-year-old was in shock, and he had one laceration on his head,” Lazaro said. “From what I could see and feel, it wasn’t a significant bleed. He was just completely stunned, but they were really fortunate.”
Lazaro emphasized that car accident safety procedures were followed, something she said she and her fellow instructors discuss with their students.
“I was able to get their car in park and took the keys out and did all the correct things.”
Lazaro said it’s important to get the car stabilized so it doesn’t move anywhere and get bystanders safely away from the situation, especially when traffic is not yet controlled as was the case that night.
EMS arrived while Lazaro was assessing the second accident victim. Once she finished, she briefed the paramedics and turned the patients over to them.
Looking back on that night, Lazaro was satisfied with the care she provided to the victims in the first and second car accidents, but there was one aspect that she still has anxiety about. The safety of her children.
“It’s a huge thing to highlight because I think it’s probably the biggest part of the night for me.”
Lazaro said that she tries to not stop when she has her children in the car, especially when she’s alone.
“I had my spouse and he was able to stay with our car that was parked between another bystander’s car and the first accident,” she said. “Of course, when the second accident happened my immediate response before I ran to anybody or did anything, was to yell to my husband to get them (the kids) out of here, to go move my car. He took them to the parking lot of a nearby gas station.
“Walking away from that night, as honorable and great as I felt to help people, I was glad I was there,” Lazaro added. “But I walked away with so much anxiety because I feel 100 percent confident that if the (suspected) drunk driver would have been approaching from the other direction it would have been my children in the car he would have smashed into. So that absolutely scared the life out of me. I was shaken for the rest of the night. That was my big takeaway.”
Ironically, Lazaro was a first responder in another accident that occurred almost a year ago on Christmas morning. That accident happened just two houses down from her home, right after her kids opened their presents.
“We literally just finished unwrapping presents, and then I looked outside and there it was, all the commotion of a few people and the whole accident happening.”
A young woman and two small kids had flipped their 4-wheeler and crashed into a fence. Because the area firefighters are all-volunteer, Lazaro interacted with the EMS crew and assisted with getting the patients onto Life Flight and ground transports.
Fortunately for all those involved, Lazaro has been at the right place at the right time. Despite some of the safety risks, Lazaro said she wouldn’t hesitate to help if needed. “I would absolutely do it again. I believe it’s a great thing to be able to help.
“But,” she added, “I think it’s important to consider the safety piece because you never know when a second incident might happen.”