By Staff Sgt. Jacob Morgan
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Capt. Robert Wray, 21st Space Wing commander’s action group, was presented the Air Force Commendation Medal July 16 here for off-duty actions where he crawled through glass to evacuate three people from an overturned smoking vehicle.
On March 3, 2013, at approximately 1:30 p.m., Wray and two other Civil Air Patrol members were traveling north on I-25 to Centennial, Colorado, when a sport-utility vehicle drifted off the road headed south. It hit an embankment and flipped end over end one-and-a-half times, finally coming to a rest on its roof. The three occupants of the vehicle were coming from Northern Colorado carrying camping equipment, which was violently thrown around and outside the vehicle.
Wray and his driver CAP Maj. Stefanie Hudgins immediately stopped to help.
“When I arrived at the vehicle, all of the windows were busted, the vehicle was still on, smoke was coming from the engine, two occupants were unconscious and the driver was in pain,” said Wray. “Luckily the median was wide enough to where they did not land in the north bound lane, they landed in the median.”
For a split second, Wray thought about the pain in his back, he had just suffered two fractured vertebrate in his back due to a car accident one month prior.
“At the time, a lot of thoughts were going through my head,” said Wray. “I was very sensitive to possible spinal cord injuries as I had recently been injured. However, when I saw the smoke from the engine, I made the decision to get the three people out as soon as possible. The adrenaline kicked in.”
Wray went to work not knowing if the two unconscious members in the back seat were alive. He lay on the ground and started low crawling through the shattered glass. The driver was still conscious, so Wray went through the front passenger door, reached up and pushed the driver’s seatbelt button, the driver fell to the bottom of the vehicle where Wray helped him crawl out.
The 16 year-old cadet with Wray helped provide first aid while Hudgins provided traffic control in the highway.
Wray went back in for the other two passengers, finally realizing he was cut up and bleeding from the glass as he was wearing a short-sleeve shirt. Both were fairly large male adults who were crunched by the roof. One passenger was starting to become conscious and realizing how much pain he was in. Smoke was still coming from the engine.
“When I got back in the vehicle, the passenger was stuck and his arms were pinned,” said Wray. “I found a knife in the vehicle and started to cut his seat belt, but found a way to reach his release button for his belt. He didn’t have the strength to help me get him out, so I slowly low crawled backwards to get him out of the vehicle.”
Once again, Wray’s team and a few others who had stopped started administering first aid.
Going back into the vehicle, Wray found the last passenger still unconscious, after checking his pulse, Wray noticed several injuries, but was still concerned with the possibility for fire. This passenger was in the worst position, completely scrunched, surrounded by debris and no immediate entrance to the vehicle. At about 230 pounds, Wray said he only had about 12 inches to try and lay the passenger flat and drag him out; the passenger was completely pinned in the vehicle.
About five minutes after the last passenger was out, emergency crews were on scene from Monument, Castle Rock and Larkspur. Wray climbed through the vehicle one more time to gather identification in case any of the people injured had medical conditions.
“Someone needed to stop,” said Hudgins. “We did what we had to do; we wanted to make sure everyone was ok. [Wray] did exactly what I would expect him to do; he has never worried about himself, his actions do not surprise me at all.”
Wray said he felt the whole situation lasted forever, but from the time of the crash until the last passenger was out, only about 20 minutes had elapsed. Police and fire crews took a statement from Wray and his team. The driver was coherent enough to thank Wray, the other two were fully conscious when the emergency crews arrived and everyone survived.
“I was afraid that those guys could die, either from their injuries or a fire. Thankfully there was no fire, but this wasn’t a situation where I was trying to be a hero, I just didn’t want those guys to die,” said Wray. “What I did was not special; I was the most capable in our group to get in that vehicle, so I did. I feel confident that many other Americans would have done the same thing I did. To me it’s instinctual, which might have been enhanced by my time in the Air Force, but it is a natural American instinct to help those in a time of need.”
About thirty minutes after the accident driving to their CAP meeting, Wray started to feel his back again, the adrenaline was gone. The team started to talk through the incident, said Wray.
“I am really proud of the cadet,” said Wray. “The kid took charge and made the older kids who were injured lay down and made sure they were ok. He did an outstanding job. Hudgins also kept people moving and controlled the situation; it was a true team effort.