CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (WRIC) — A couple had something extra special to be thankful for last week after they were rescued from a burning vehicle on Interstate 95 by a Marine just one day before Thanksgiving.
Sgt. Ian Rivera left Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune around 1 p.m. that day. He was driving north on I-95 to spend Thanksgiving with family in Caroline County.
About three hours into Sgt. Rivera’s drive, a four-vehicle accident happened four miles south of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. A couple in a Mazda 3 took the brunt of the crash, according to a press release from the Marines.
“I was about two cars behind,” said Rivera, a native of Virginia Beach. “I jumped out onto the shoulder of the left side of the road and ran to them. I wanted to make sure they were okay.”
Sgt. Rivera stopped outside the driver door when he realized smoke was billowing from what remained of the car’s engine. He quickly mobilized other bystanders to help the woman in the passenger seat. Several of them were active duty Marines and soldiers.
The woman was incoherent after the crash prompted the air bag to deploy. Eventually, she was able to relay that her husband, Army Capt. Ben Sylvester, was immobilized in the backseat.
Two weeks before the crash, Capt. Sylvester had undergone knee reconstruction surgery after sustaining an injury during an airborne jump. He was helpless due to a hip-to-ankle brace on his right leg.
“Pinned on the floor of a wrecked car … as smoke and flames visible through the windshield started billowing, was a feeling I’ve never experienced before, and hope never to see again,” Sylvester wrote in an official statement.
Sgt. Rivera acted quickly with the help of others on scene to get Sylvester out of the car. Then, Rivera grabbed a water bottle from his vehicle to pour on the burning engine. Shortly after, a second fire broke out, this time from under the vehicle. Fortunately, another bystander brought a fire extinguisher, allowing Rivera to quickly put out the flames.
Once Capt. Sylvester and his wife were evacuated from the burning car, Sgt. Rivera directed the remaining bystanders to push the wrecked vehicle into the emergency lane.
Rivera’s peers said his actions were what would be expected of a Marine of his caliber.
“Sgt. Rivera has always been level-headed,” said Cpl. Nicholas Veasey. “The junior Marines under him can always learn from his mentorship.”
River spoke with the couple and stayed by their side until police and paramedics arrived on scene about 30 minutes later. Everyone else involved in the crash were found to be in safe condition.
“It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” Rivera said. “It’s what I was supposed to do.”
Upon his return to base the following Monday, his command recognized him for his heroic actions. Some Marines even nick-named him “The Hero of 95.”
Sylvester and his wife expressed their gratitude to Rivera as well.
“I can honestly say I have never been so impressed with a noncommissioned officer’s conduct as I was with Sgt. Rivera that day,” Sylvester wrote. “Through his actions, he literally saved the day. My wife and I are eternally grateful.”
River said he’d do what anyone would have done in that situation. He said he felt relieved that those involved lived to see another due thanks to fast thinking and actions.