When a Marine from Virginia Beach saw a burning vehicle on Interstate 95 the day before Thanksgiving, he ran toward it.
Sgt. Ian Rivera, an intelligence analyst, was about two cars behind a four-car collision on I-95 that would take authorities more than half-an-hour to reach.
He saw flames billowing through the windshield of a car where inside U.S. Army Capt. Ben Sylvester was immobilized and pinned in the back seat, behind his wife, who was in an ” incoherent state” after the crash and airbag deployment, according to an account on the U.S. Marine Corps website that identified Rivera as a Beach native.
Sylvester was wearing a hip-to-ankle brace on his right leg because of knee reconstruction surgery he had had two weeks earlier following an injury he suffered in an Airborne jump, according to the Marines’ story.
“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.
It was a sight Rivera said he hopes to never see again, according to the Marines’ release.
Rivera mobilized other bystanders to pull the couple out of the burning Mazda 3, and then grabbed a water bottle from his vehicle to fight the flames until another bystander retrieved a extinguisher, the release said. Together, they put out the fire and Rivera led efforts to push the vehicle into the emergency lane.
Rivera, who was traveling from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to spend Thanksgiving with family in Caroline County, stayed with the couple for about half-an-hour until police and paramedics arrived. No one else was hurt, the release said.
The account from the Marines quoted Rivera as saying he was simply in the right place at the right time and did “what I was supposed to do.”
Sylvester praised Rivera.
“I can honestly say I have never been so impressed with a noncommissioned officer’s conduct as I was with Sgt. Rivera that day,” he wrote. “Through his actions, he literally saved the day. My wife and I are eternally grateful.”
The Marines’ account said Rivera was recognized for his actions by his command upon his return to base and received a new nickname from his peers: The Hero of 95.