How I freed a state trooper injured in a barrel roll

The way he was suspended by the seat belt, he appeared to be suffering from positional asphyxia; I wedged myself underneath him and was able to lift him up so he wasn't hanging on his vest

By Ed Tapanes

It was about 8:20 a.m., three days after Christmas. I had just finished my last shift of the week and had jumped onto the turnpike to get home and get some much needed sleep. Not even a minute after entering the highway I see debris and dirt flying into the air a couple of hundred feet ahead of me, followed by an immediate slowdown of traffic.

Assuming an accident, I jump onto the shoulder and quickly make my way up to the scene. I had anticipated a car or two into the guardrail. I was not prepared to see a state trooper's cruiser mangled and crushed as if by an angry giant's hand. 

Apparently the cruiser had barrel rolled at a high rate of speed and ended up about 20 feet off the roadway on its passenger side at the edge of a marsh. The windshield was crazed and the roof was crushed in so much that I could not see more than a glimpse of the driver. 

The car was stable (resting against a small tree) so I climbed onto the side of the car and tried to access the driver through the driver's door, but he was dangling from his seatbelt away from the door (which was crushed and stuck) and the roof was bent in covering him. I jumped down off the car to try to get in through the windshield. 

Fortunately a couple of Good Samaritans had stopped and found a halogen tool that apparently had been ejected from the cruiser's trunk. We were able to cut an opening on the lower part of the windshield through which I could gain access. When the hole was large enough for me to fit through, I wiggled in and made contact with the PT.

The PT was a rather large state trooper hanging upside down from his seatbelt. 

He was cyanotic with agonal respirations and unresponsive. I could not gauge the extent of his other injuries (between the caved-in roof and the center console it was really tight in there), but there didn't appear to be any major bleeds, and I knew I needed to address his breathing first. 

The way he was suspended by the seatbelt and his bulletproof vest, he appeared to be suffering from positional asphyxia. C-spine was an obvious concern, but there was no way I was going to be able to stabilize his c-spine or get him out of there without rescue, so I wedged myself underneath him and with great effort was able to lift him up enough so that he wasn't hanging on his vest. His breathing improved immediately and within a minute his color had improved and he was trying to speak.

After what seemed like an hour (which I later learned was only about 15 minutes — actually a great response time considering the gridlock this accident caused during rush hour on a major highway), rescue arrived along with other EMS units (my coworkers as a matter of fact) and the extrication began. Less than 20 minutes later we loaded him up onto the helicopter and he was on his way to the closest Level I trauma center.

I later heard that he suffered a fractured pelvis and broken femur along with some other injuries, but has since made a full recovery and is back on the job.

Here's a news blurb about the accident: 

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