Driving home from his shift on May 25, while stopped at a red light about three minutes from his house, Cpl. Michael Rivera, a civilian police officer at the Provost Marshal’s office, watched a white Jeep Cherokee smash into the back of a small pickup truck that was waiting at the light adjacent to him.
“It was a nasty hit,” said Rivera. “It was one of those sounds that just makes you cringe. I’m a combat veteran and, if you’re used to that noise, it snaps you to react.”
React is just what Rivera did, who moved his car to the edge of the road and ran over to the woman in the Cherokee. By the time he reached her, the car was in flames.
“I had to react,” said Rivera, a Marine who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009 as a former gunnery sergeant. “That’s what every Marine does. They teach you how to react, you just don’t stand there.”
But this wasn’t the first time Rivera had to react to a dire situation. While serving in Afghanistan he saw a spurt of sand and dirt from a few feet away where Lance Cpl. Justin Swanson was driving his humvee when an improvised explosive device went off. Rivera limped to the humvee on a leg fractured by the explosion. Swanson was killed and two other Marines injured in the incident. In November Rivera was awarded the Purple Heart for his actions.
This time Rivera found an elderly woman with no seat belt on, slumped over in the burning Cherokee, and the front of the vehicle was smashed up to the front tires. Rivera had no time to check for a pulse or administer first aid; he just had time to remove her from the vehicle before it became fully inflamed.
“By the time I yanked her out and took a couple steps, somebody was grabbing her legs” said Rivera. “It was an off-duty nurse who began the initial first aid.”
The first victim was being looked after and away from harm. Rivera looked down the road to see if anyone was helping the second victim and, to his amazement, no one had gotten out of their car to help.
“No one had responded to him so I tried to head down that way,” said Rivera, “but I had to go around her car that was on fire. By the time I got to it, the fire department had already arrived on scene.”
Spotsylvania’s sheriff’s department intends to recommend Rivera for an award for his actions in saving the elderly woman’s life.
“The police officer I talked to couldn’t say enough good things,” said Capt. David S. Rainey, operations officer for Security Battalion.
Rainey recalled a conversation he had with the sheriff who was amazed that a guy on his way home, minding his own business, witnessed a car hit another vehicle and he ran to help, not even thinking who it was or why it happened.
“It wasn’t a surprise to hear he was one of the few who got out to help,” said Rainey. “He is a solid police officer who takes his job very seriously and is committed to the ethos of being a police officer.”
Almost three weeks after the accident, Rivera had the chance to meet the victim.
“I met her and her family on Friday,” said Rivera. “I saw her daughter and she thanked me.
“I guess it’s a blessing in disguise, the second day she was at the hospital they found out she had pancreatic cancer, and she thanked me because they found it in the early stages. Otherwise she wouldn’t have known otherwise.”