Marine vet who rescued woman from burning car awarded EMT scholarship
Alex Sabo pulled college student Christina Poirier from the fiery vehicle; her mother thanked him by facilitating the EMT scholarship and additional honors
By Ed Stannard
HARTFORD, Conn. — Alex Sabo was riding his motorcycle on the Merritt Parkway in Trumbull, coming home from a wedding party, when he saw a car ablaze.
Rushing to the scene, the former Marine sergeant found the small sedan that had crashed with five occupants – but only four were outside the car. The gas tank was about to catch fire.
Christina Poirier had been in the middle of the back seat but was thrown forward, unconscious. Sabo grabbed her under her arms and pulled her out of the car, away from danger.
According to Poirier, a psychology major at Sacred Heart University, if Sabo had not arrived at that moment, “I would have burned alive.”
Sabo’s quick actions not only saved Poirier’s life, but has given him a career path, with a scholarship to the EMT program at Hartford Hospital. His goal is to become a medical pilot, perhaps for Life Star.
“Interestingly enough, I don’t really even have the actual memory of the accident itself,” Poirier, 20, said recently. “I have seen pictures and stuff from that week. And I’m now like, ‘Oh my gosh, I remember that.’ But I didn’t remember it till I saw the pictures.”
Poirier, a sophomore from Modena, N.Y., does remember being at a party, the first week back in class. “Everyone was so happy and I was hanging out with a bunch of new people I’d become friends with, who are the same people that ended up getting into that car,” she said.
They headed out between 2 and 2:30 a.m. to get some fast food.
The next thing Poirier knew, “My scalp was just hanging off me,” Poirier said. She had cracked her skull, suffered a brain bleed and had severe cuts on her face, right shoulder and arm from broken glass. Her long hair was burned short and she broke a bone in her neck. Part of her eyebrow was burned off too.
“I couldn’t move my arms normally for very long or my neck for the first few weeks,” Poirier said. “And I have a divot in my skull. It’s actually getting feeling back though. So it’s been driving me a little crazy, because my head’s been itchy, but it’s just like the nerves are generating. So it’s a good thing.”
Poirier wears a wig at times, but her brown hair, while short, is growing back. A V-shaped scar runs from her hairline to her cheek and she has a scar on the back of her head.
Sabo, 24, who had parked on the other side of the Frenchtown Road overpass, ran back and asked another of the car’s occupants if there was someone in the car. They said there was.
“I opened the front passenger door. And then I see her head and her arms, leaning forward into the front seats,” he said. “So I double hook under the arms, and I just kind of drag her out. Since we’re downhill, we’re kind of like falling backwards. Then I pick her up.”
When Sabo got Poirier to the roadside, “that’s when she started screaming,” he said. “It was the first time I heard her screaming and all she said was, it hurts. But she wasn’t really moving around. Her eyes weren’t open.” Poirier has no memory of that either.
The car now was an inferno. Both lost their phones in the fire.
Sabo credited his Marine training for being able to act so quickly.
“It’s not even a thought,” he said. “It’s kind of just driven into you. It’s almost like second-nature muscle memory after all the training. You just kind of show up and you’re like, it’s not even a matter of, should I do something or not? It’s, I’ve got to do something.”
Sabo was concerned about a spinal injury so he cradled Poirier in his lap, refusing to let police take over and move her. “I didn’t trust anybody at that point other than myself, because I already had her supported,” he said. “So I guided them to what to do, which was just hold her down.” The EMTs finally arrived and took her to Bridgeport Hospital.
As a symbol of their bond, Sabo gave Poirier a ring that had been handed down from his grandfather to his father to him, which he credits with bringing him luck.
“I was very superstitious and the ring came into play years ago, where I got into an accident and I was wearing the ring. And I survived that accident,” Sabo said. “And I always wear the ring around this chain, and I never took it off.”
He decided to give it to Poirier since it had done its job for him. “My thing with superstition is … once you’re kind of pushing the limits with something, you get rid of it, it goes to the next person. You pass it down,” he said.
“Intention is everything,” Poirier said. “And I mean, just with the intent you put into it, it has enough meaning on its own. It’s pretty amazing.”
“I felt like it needs to be hers,” Sabo said. “Now, obviously, I felt like it was protective over me. So maybe it will be protective over her in the future.”
He reflected on how unlikely it was that he would have been riding by the car and seen the crash.
“I was thinking, what are the odds, right?” he said. “It’s 2 a.m. There’s one car on the road, and there’s me. It could have been anybody else to sit there and hesitate and say, I’m going to sit back here and call 911 first, and then the car blows up. And nobody knows she’s in there because they didn’t ask or they didn’t act.”
Poirier sees symbolism too. Out of 12 tattoos, the only two she has that weren’t touched in the crash are the two for her grandfather.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a time in our lives to believe in a higher power protecting us in some way,” she said. “And putting good out in the universe will give you good back. I don’t know what’s more perfect than that. I definitely believe in karma, that’s for sure.”
Sabo had his own crash, on Oct. 6, in which he hit a speed hump in Hartford, his hometown. He suffered numerous injuries and was unable to walk for a while, but is recovered now.
But being out of work after the accident has given Sabo an opportunity.
“At that point, I recognized I had a chance to go back to school,” he said. “So I was like, Yeah, I’m going to do it. Because I’ve never been one to shy away from education, learning more. And I was already flying helicopters.” He had gotten his private helicopter’s license and had wanted to fly since he was a boy.
It also happened that he grew up a few minutes from Hartford Hospital and was used to seeing the Life Star helicopters taking off from the rooftop helipad.
“I saw Life Star every night and we couldn’t sleep,” Sabo said. “The building would shake every time because when a Life Star comes in, when you do a low approach, it’s maybe a 60-degree landing.”
He didn’t get to fly in the Marines but once he was discharged Sabo looked at his options. “I saw this opportunity. I already fly helicopters. Now I can become a paramedic in the near future,” he said. He realized he needed to get into an emergency medical technician program and decided on Hartford Hospital’s Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation.
That’s when Poirier’s mother, Jean Poirier, stepped in to help the man who saved her daughter’s life. She got in touch with Stephen Donahue, director of CESI.
“I just thought … this is a remarkable story that needs to be told,” Jean Poirier said. “But more than that, I wanted to see how I could help him pursue his dreams and goals and make sure he achieves them and be a support in his life after what he did. … I could never thank him enough for what he did.”
She wrote to Donahue, asking him if he offered EMT scholarships for military veterans. “And lo and behold he calls me the next morning at 9 in the morning,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I almost fell off my chair.”
An online meeting was set up. “And they were practically crying when I told them some of the details because it’s just really remarkable,” Poirier said.
Donahue told her they would offer the scholarship, covering tuition, books and test fees for the 15-week course. Sabo would be the first recipient of the Josephine Faenza CESI Scholarship, named for a longtime CESI staff member who died in July of breast cancer.
“And on that call … there were the Life Star people there too that offered to take him under their wing, and mentor him,” Poirier said. “Maybe even get him on a ride on the helicopter, show him the different helicopters and mechanics of the helicopters. And he was like, Oh my gosh. It’s just very sweet and innocent.”
Sabo was thrilled. “There’s not many turbine helicopters like that. I think that’s an EC-130 or 135 that they fly here. And there’s not many of those around here.”
Jean Poirier also set up a GoFundMe account for Sabo that has raised almost $5,800 so far. And she arranged for a proclamation for Sabo from Gov. Ned Lamont.
Donahue said, “I was very moved when I got the email from Jean to the point where I wasn’t sure if it was real. I was a little skeptical because the story was just remarkable.”
He said he was “definitely taken aback by his act of kindness and being so heroic that I wanted to get the right people on the call with Jean and Alex and be able to talk about our program.” The scholarship is worth about $2,200.
Once they discussed the intensity of the program and what would be expected, “It was a no-brainer for us to do this,” Donahue said.