The fatal Amtrak crash in Tacoma, Wash., on Monday could have been much deadlier if not for the selfless actions of a newly commissioned U.S. Army lieutenant stationed at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Second Lt. Robert McCoy was driving his pickup down Interstate 5 when he saw train cars burst through the concrete barrier lining the highway overpass and tumble to the road below.
He says he hit the brakes on his truck to stop short of the falling train, which crushed several cars driving in front of him. After seeing the devastating crash up close, McCoy knew he had to do something to help.
“I remembered I had a tourniquet and a CPR mask in my truck and I grabbed those and I took off toward the accident,” McCoy told local TV station Q13 FOX. “There were individuals who had been ejected from the train onto the pavement. And so my first initial thought was, I don’t know how stable this is. If this train continues to fall, it’s gonna fall on these individuals.”
McCoy, who serves in the medical field at Lewis-McChord, says he carried several ejected passengers out of the roadway and then started helping people trapped inside a semi-truck and the overturned Amtrak cars. Along with another good Samaritan, he climbed on top of the crushed semi, and then into a rail car teetering on the overpass, where he found about 20 to 30 passengers trapped inside.
“I heard people in there asking for help and stuff,” McCoy said. “There were people yelling, there was people looking for each other, looking for loved ones.”
Despite the frightening prospect of the mangled train cars collapsing, McCoy continued to help extract victims, including a family whose grandmother was partially dangling from the end of a car.
McCoy’s heroics inspired praise from his platoon sergeant, Hunter Williams. Even though McCoy hasn’t been tested in combat, his efforts show he is a natural leader in the face of adversity, Williams says.
“THIS is the type of leader we need in the Army,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Monday. “These are the men (and women) you want leading your sons and daughters into combat. The ones whose fight instinct overcomes their flight instinct, regardless of the situation, and they act to ensure that people live.”
The Amtrak crash killed three people and wounded at least 100 others. Investigators say the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone because positive train control, a technology that automatically slows down a speeding train, was not activated. Passengers described the crash as similar to being inside an “exploding bomb.”
Despite the carnage, McCoy says he never hesitated to act.
“I couldn’t afford to be scared, I couldn’t afford to be shocked,” he told Q13 FOX. “I had to do what I am called to do and focus and channel that and help these people around me get to safety as best as possible.”
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