STRAWBERRY, Calif. -- Around 8:30 a.m. on April 9, 2012, Sgt. Michael Wazelle of Carson City Army Career Center headed over the mountain pass of Highway 50 en route to Sacramento Recruiting Battalion. His plan was to take a nice leisurely drive over the pass and seek some first-aid for his computer since his laptop was in bad condition. As it would turn out, Wazelle would end up stopping to render first aid at the site of a truck crash before he could get help for his computer.
As it winds through the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the California side, Highway 50 can often be a dangerous stretch of road. One of the primary highways for taking travelers into the mountains from Sacramento up to area ski resorts surrounding Lake Tahoe and on to Nevada, it is lined with deceptively dangerous corners that hug the mountain on the westbound lane; on the eastbound side it often parallels the South Fork of the American River, with few guardrails to keep a driver from plunging off the road and down steep embankments toward the tree and rock-lined river.
It was on one such stretch of road at approximately 9:30 a.m. that Wazelle came upon a disturbing scene between the small towns of Strawberry and Kyburz. With dust and smoke still in the air he saw that a dual-trailer big-rig truck had just crashed, running into a shallow ditch along the edge of the road on Wazelle's westbound side of Highway 50.
Being just the second car on-scene, Wazelle said it appeared that the truck, hauling sand in its trailers, had lost its brakes as they were still dusting the air with smoke when he pulled over to see if anyone needed help. It was then he noticed that another vehicle, a small SUV, had gone over the bank along the eastbound, river side of Highway 50. As he went to check on the occupants of the SUV, he noticed that the vehicle had come to rest against a tree about 20 yards down the embankment. Fortunately, both the driver and passenger had already gotten out of the vehicle under their own power and were making their way up the hillside, apparently in pretty good condition.
Upon finding out that the SUV passengers were okay and that someone from the first vehicle on-scene had called 9-1-1, Wazelle said he turned his attention to the truck. Noticing that it was pretty beat up and that the back window was missing, he quickly moved to the vehicle to see how the driver had weathered the run into the ditch.
Wazelle noticed that the driver had not been wearing a seatbelt and had been tossed around the cab during the crash. "He had lacerations on his face and hands, he also had a large bump and about a four-inch long gash on the back of his head," said Wazelle. "He was incoherent and couldn't even tell me what month it was."
Wazelle said he did what he could for the driver. "I'm pretty sure he had a concussion and was definitely in shock," said Wazelle. "I just did my best to keep him immobilized and make him comfortable." The basic first-aid helped, as Wazelle said that the driver slowly was able to relax a little and became more coherent by the time paramedics arrived.
Once the paramedics were on scene, Wazelle continued to help out by keeping the driver's neck immobilized. Since the driver was also a "rather large man," Wazelle helped the paramedics get him out of the truck and onto a board and then helped carry him from the awkwardly positioned truck and ditch.
When asked if he felt that his military training gave him an edge to stop and help, Wazelle replied, "Definitely."
This was not the first time Wazelle has had to apply military-taught emergency first aid. He has had to call upon his Army training to apply first-aid to fellow soldiers in the field while he was deployed to Iraq.
Wazelle said that he was at the crash site and rendering aid for about 15-20 minutes. And even though he had a large blood stain on the back of his uniform, he hopped back in his vehicle and simply continued his trip to battalion to get his computer the first-aid it required.
"Hey, I had to get it fixed!" said Wazelle. "It was just another day."
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