By Jennifer Moody
James Myrick, others tend to injured driver until help comes
By 8:30 a.m., James Myrick is usually just arriving at Western Oregon University for the classes he needs for his education degree.
Tuesday, however, the 25-year-old was running late — and those extra minutes may have helped keep a man alive until paramedics could get to the scene.
As Myrick headed west on Highway 20 west of Albany, approaching the intersection with Independence Highway, Tomas Garza, 42, of McMinnville was on Independence, coming to the intersection ready to make a left.
Garza’s Honda Civic turned in front of a Subaru Legacy in front of Myrick; the Legacy was driven by Ethan Glaser, 25, of Albany. Glaser braked and swerved but Garza was too close. Oregon State Police troopers would later cite Garza for failure to obey a traffic control device.
The collision knocked the Civic across the highway and crumpled the frame, leaving Garza hanging halfway out the driver’s side window.
Myrick saw the impact and stopped his truck, putting on his brights and emergency flashers. He grabbed his phone and called 911 as he went to see who might need help as other cars continued to pass.
Glaser wasn’t injured. Myrick and another man, whose name he never got, ran to the Civic. The engine was still on and the hood was beginning to smoke.
“My biggest fear at that point is, what if this thing catches fire? I see his leg is stuck. We’re in big trouble,” Myrick said.
But Myrick is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2007 as a combat infantryman with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Before he came home with a back injury, he took, and also taught, the combat lifesaving course known as COS.
“My combat training really kicked in,” Myrick said.
Myrick asked the other man at the scene to direct traffic while he worked with Garza. Garza’s breath was coming hitched and shallow, sounding like hiccups. Myrick counted one hiccup every three seconds.
The Honda’s doors were locked and the mechanism broken, so Myrick couldn’t get inside. He reached through the shattered window and the bent door as best he could to ease Garza back inside and put him in a cervical spine hold to stabilize his neck.
“Then his breathing all of a sudden started to get somewhat regular,” Myrick recalled. “He takes one huge gasp of air. At that point I thought, we’re in better shape than what I initially thought.”
The engine cut out and the smoke began to clear, much to Myrick’s relief. He started talking to Garza. Garza groaned in response.
“From the military, I know groans are better than nothing,” Myrick said. So he began asking questions: Do you know where you are? Do you know what day it is?
Garza gave his name but could say little else about his situation. To keep him conscious, Myrick asked him how he felt, what parts hurt and what his family was like. He reassured him, told him to stay still and that help was on the way.
When the paramedics arrived, which “seemed like forever,” Myrick said, they assessed his C-spine hold and told him to keep it up while they got the extraction equipment ready. Myrick covered Garza’s face as they broke the windshield for better access.
After medics took over, Myrick went back to his truck. He had to pull over on the way to class and sit and shake for a while, flashing back to his military service and letting the adrenaline slowly drain away.
He’s still worried about Garza, who initially was listed in serious condition at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis before being transported late Tuesday to Portland. Neither his location nor a condition update were immediately available late Tuesday.
An assistant football and wrestling coach for West Albany High School, Myrick said he thought about his “West Albany family” as he held Garza’s head.
“This is what they instill in their staff and their students: being a good citizen, not just driving off,” he said. “Being conscious of other people is why I stopped. I don’t think what I did was anything special at all.”