Whenever a call comes in over this office's police scanner alerting all units to another crash on I-10, it's never good. For whatever reason, the hot summer months seem to breed horrible collisions on the small stretch of interstate that cuts through the northern part of Gonzales County.
And it's never fun to head that direction, knowing what carnage might await. Contrary to some beliefs, it's not sensationalism that newspaper reporters seek when covering a crash. Rather, it's about showing the men and women that rush out to save lives. It serves two purposes: personally, they are friends and family and it is important to document what they put themselves through at another day at work. Professionally, it is a snapshot of how local government tax dollars being spent.
Thursday morning was such another call. A fast-moving RV traveling east attempted to merge into the right lane to avoid construction ahead, as signs had instructed the driver to do. Unable to control speed, the RV crashed into the rear of a big rig. The result was the driver being pinned inside the RV and the passenger ejected onto the roadway. Traffic was instantly halted. Among the first vehicles to come to a stop was a bus load of National Guard troops on their way home from routine yearly trainings at Camp Bowie in Brownwood.
When this reporter arrived on scene, two life-flight helicopters were lifting off from the pavement. Amongst the wreckage, a number of uniformed soldiers were calmly running about. They were taking orders from higher-ups to put on gloves, grab brooms, and be safe as they helped to clear the scene of debris. One soldier commented in passing that it was “just another day on the job.”
“We're combat engineers,” explained 1st Lt. Benjamin Knight of the 442nd Engineer Company. “We just got done with a two week annual rotation. We're heading back to Angleton now.”
The unit's mission, as stated online, is to “deploy in support of unified land operations worldwide, to execute route and area clearance operations by providing assured mobility, freedom of maneuver through neutralization manufactured and improvised explosives.” They are a Mobility Augmentation Company (MAC) and several videos posted to their Facebook page show them dealing with explosives and erecting barbed wire fencing. Other duties listed are tactical mountaineering, combined arms breeching, gap crossing, constructing combat roads and trails, maintaining forward airfields and landing zones, and traffic management and enforcement.
Last Thursday, the soldiers were in what you would say was the right place at the right time.
“We were right behind [the crash], probably 500 meters,” said Knight. “[We] saw it happen and pulled right up and those guys just really reacted, all knowing what they're supposed to be doing, started administering any aid and assistance they could, filling in wherever we could. These guys did a really good job.”
Since National Guard troops are not full-time soldiers, they maintain regular jobs that allow them to serve during annual training or when called up. Many of the Guard members have civilian jobs in first response, such as one man on board. And while they know life-saving procedures, the soldiers did not have their medical bags in tow, simply because they had returned from training and were not in a live scenario. Regardless, they did what they could with what they had until Gonzales County first responders arrived.
“They assisted in putting a fire out, they provided first aid to a patient that was out here laying on the street, and they immediately came over to help extricate the guy that was pinned inside of the [RV], and then they stayed and provided first aid to him while he was being helped out by EMS,” noted Cpl. Darryl Hart of the Gonzales County Sheriff's Office. “He needed trauma first aid, and these guys were literally first responders on scene. And they handled it. They handled it admirably.”
“It's just another thing to drive home, right? That the training we do actually comes into play,” said Knight.
When asked for an official National Guard comment, officials were quick to praise the group.
"442nd EN CO (MAC) soldiers never cease to amaze the 386th Engineer Battalion,” said 1st Lt. Kimberly Rodriguez, 386th Engineer Battalion Operations Assistant and former 442nd Platoon Leader. “They are the epitome of perseverance and will find the strength to overcome any obstacle, even if it involves putting their own lives on the line. These soldiers go from military training to real world actions in a heartbeat. They are the true definition of a Citizen Soldier."
According to Texas Department of Public Safety officials, Robert Korn, 83, of Arizona, was driving the 1997 Pace Arrow RV that collided with the semi truck. His passenger was Linda Connors, 70. Korn was air lifted to San Antonio Military Hospital where he later died from his injuries. Connors was transported to Gonzales Memorial Hospital where she died from her injuries. A small dog in the RV appeared unharmed at the scene and was taken to Guadalupe Valley Veterinary Clinic until family members could take possession.