Oregon Air Guardsman helps critically injured motorist after train collision

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

A Kingsley Field Airman found himself responding to a crisis situation recently at the most unexpected time. While on vacation in Duluth, Minnesota in late August, Master Sgt. Osten Coaty, 173rd Logistics Readiness Squadron First Sergeant, was enjoying a dinner train ride with his extended family when he looked out the window of the train to see a small, black car thrown into a stand of trees.

The train Coaty was on had struck the vehicle as it had tried to cross the tracks in front of the train.

Coaty says he reacted without a conscious thought as he handed his youngest child to his wife and ran down the train car to the door and jumped to the ground as the train slowed to a stop.

“There was an older gentleman in the car; he was curled up in the fetal position on the passenger side under the dash and there was a lot of smoke and a lot of blood,” said Coaty.

He goes on to say that that the victim was making a shuddering noise, which he later came to find out is referred to in medical terms as a “death rattle”, an ominous sign that a patient teeters on the brink of passing away.

“As I’m going around the car to bust a window or something to get to the man, a lady from the train runs over and says ‘I’m a trauma nurse, can I help?’” said Coaty.

She quickly checked vital signs and immediately says, “’This man is going to die if you don’t get him out, get him out now!’” said Coaty. “So I opened the door and laid him down as gently as I could so as not to disturb his spine.”

Coaty said that in that moment he was reverted to the first aid training he received in the Air Force, and noted that the victim resumed breathing. Coaty started checking for injuries, noting a badly broken leg and a head injury that appeared very serious. Over the next 15 minutes he and others worked to stabilize the man before the emergency responders arrived with an ambulance and transported the man to the hospital.

Coaty is reticent to talk about the experience, the injuries he describes are gruesome and his eyes get shiny with emotion at different times as he talks. He does say that the experience helped show him the importance of standard Self-Aid Buddy Care training in a situation like that.

When asked why he reacted so quickly he recalls a scene from years ago when he was in high school.  He was driving to a party and he passed the scene of a head-on collision. He recalls people walking slowly, “like zombies,” toward the wrecked cars and rolling down his window and asking, “is everyone okay?” and none of them responding. He says at that moment he figured that there was little he could do and so he drove on. Later at the party he couldn’t shake the feeling that he should have done something, and it was cemented when he later read a news article saying one man had succumbed to his injuries at the scene.

“That was part of my motivation,” he says as a way to explain why it’s important for him personally to see if there is something he can do to help.