Right place, right time: 131st Airman saves driver in crash

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kelly Ferguson
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs

An Airman was driving to work at Whiteman when she came upon a motor-vehicle collision involving a semi-trailer truck and a car, Nov. 2, 2022. 

First on the scene, Master Sgt. Ashlea G. Woolverton, 131st Bomb Wing Command Post superintendent, NC2 Operations, notified the authorities and rushed to the car where she discovered a young man unconscious and trapped in the driver’s seat. 

While making her way to the wrecked car, Woolverton noticed the semi driver had exited his vehicle and taken his phone out to call 911.  

After reaching into the severely damaged vehicle to check for signs of life, Woolverton was able to assess the extent of the man’s injuries. His wounds were extensive. She said she gently touched his shoulder when he came to and started to scream. 

“I still remember his screams,” Woolverton said. “I could tell he was disoriented and he was asking me to help him get out of the car. I told him I couldn’t do that because he’d been in a bad accident, and I needed him to hold really still.” 

As the injured car driver lifted his head, Woolverton noticed a large amount of blood coming from the right side of his neck. 

She recounted how her medical training in Self Aid and Buddy Care, Tactical Combat Casualty Care, and even Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense gave her the knowledge to immediately find and apply an improvised compress to his neck to stem the bleeding. 

“It seemed like an eternity that I was just talking to him and trying to calm his fear,” Woolverton said. “I kept the compression on his neck and tried to get him to stay still. I was committed to helping him hold on until the right people with the right equipment were in place to help him in ways that I couldn’t.”

Woolverton described in detail how relieved she was when medical services arrived. She said she had never seen or experienced anything like being the first on scene to a bad wreck, and she remembers being scared and praying he would be okay. Even with the relief the arrival of medical services provided, the battle for the man’s life was far from over. 

As the first responders were gauging the man’s condition it became apparent that he was becoming more agitated. Woolverton was instructed to hold a flashlight to assist the medical team and to take hold of his hand to calm him. An IV was quickly administered with a sedative to prevent him from injuring himself further.   

After the application of life saving medications the rescue crews began to peel the car apart in order to remove the man safely. Woolverton described the process as looking similar to how someone tears the label off a bottle. In the background she could hear the helicopter heading in for a life-flight to a hospital. 

After Woolverton watched the flight leave, she provided her information to a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer on scene and drove to work at Whiteman.  She had informed her office that she was going to be a late after responding to an accident. It wasn’t until she arrived at work that her co-workers noticed something truly bad had happened. 

When Woolverton arrived at work she was asked by Maj. Mark E. Harmon, 131st Bomb Wing Command Post Chief, if she was okay. She questioned why she wouldn’t be until it was pointed out that she had blood on her uniform. Looking down at herself and seeing the blood was when the weight of what she had recently experienced hit her. That moment was the beginning of a difficult mental struggle for Woolverton. 

The man has been in a coma since the accident. Woolverton said she found herself continually wondering if she had done everything she could for him or if she might have done anything differently to provide a better outcome.

“I’m no medical professional, but I think she did everything that was within her power,” said Harmon. “She put her life in danger by going into that vehicle. She assessed the situation correctly and then used the appropriate Self Aid Buddy Care to keep the individual calm and apply pressure where it was needed. It was heroic.”

Harmon along with other personnel who work with Woolverton saw her relive the accident every time she recounted it. It has taken time and professional help for her to come to terms with what she experienced. She stated how she still occasionally struggles with dreams where she recalls the accident in vivid detail. During those dreams she mentions how she can still feel the breeze, smell the smells and hear the sounds from the incident. 

Woolverton talks to someone every two weeks to help her cope with the aftermath of the trauma she has endured. She now acknowledges that despite the young man’s current condition she did help save his life. She has worked hard to overcome a unique form of survivor’s guilt and finds herself thinking about him and how his family is doing daily. 

“I think I was the right person in the right place at the right time,” said Woolverton. “He is a brother in arms, and I think about him frequently. I would love to meet him, but I want it to be his choice this time. I say a prayer for him every day and I hope to meet him and shake his hand.” 

The Air National Guard has many resources available for any who are struggling with the symptoms of trauma or depression. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to your 131st BW Resource Team. Contact information for Resource Team professionals may be found at https://www.131bw.ang.af.mil/About/Resource-Team/