On the morning of January 29, 2021, Leigh Deppe, a Shelton native, was traveling northbound on the Merritt Parkway near Orange, Conn. The state was in the middle of a cold front with temperatures dipping as low as 25 degrees on that particular day. As she rounded a curve in the road, her car hit a patch of black ice and she lost control of her car.
“I ended up kind of ping-ponging across the highway, said Deppe, in an interview with Connecticut News 12’s Frank Recchia. “At some point, the car was in the air and it was flipping.”
To Deppe’s best recollection, she remembers getting out of the car once it came to a stop and stumbling alongside the highway until a Good Samaritan stopped to help her, moving her out of harm’s way and administering first aid until an ambulance arrived.
“He was in his Army uniform,” she said. “My brother was in the Army so I kind of felt safe trusting him.”
That Soldier was Staff Sgt. Ryan Gilbert, a combat engineer from the Connecticut National Guard’s 192nd Engineer Battalion. Gilbert, a loan officer for a large national bank outside the military, was on his way to Rentschler Field in East Hartford where he’s been on orders to help local and state partners administer COVID-19 vaccinations to the state’s most vulnerable.
“I came around a corner, up by Orange where they have that little construction area, and everyone just locked up their brakes,” said Gilbert. “I knew right then and there that there was an accident.”
Gilbert went on to explain that once he made his way through traffic far enough to see what had happened, he knew he needed to pull over and help. He saw Deppe’s car, which was sideways across the highway and a woman standing by its driver-side door on her phone.
“[Other] people were already kind of just going by, they probably thought she was okay, but I was like, nuh-uh,” said Gilbert. “I knew she had at least a concussion, all the airbags had deployed. Her car was pretty bad.”
As soon as he pulled off the road, he saw another woman had stopped and was on the phone with 9-1-1. Knowing help was on the way, he gave his full attention to Deppe by trying to keep her calm and get her out of the cold.
Every Soldier receives a basic level of medical training, first in basic training and then refreshed periodically throughout their career. This training can include everything from how to treat a minor laceration to stopping a sucking chest wound. As he took care of his patient, Gilbert started to run down the mental checklist of everything he should be looking for, but not being in the medical field, he decided to call Staff Sgt. Donnell Niles, a friend and combat medic also from the 192nd Engineer Battalion, for assistance.
“I started checking her pupils, asking her about whether or not she had pain … turns out she just had a concussion,” said Gilbert.
He stayed with her until Emergency Medical Services arrived and took her to the hospital. From there, he continued on to the vaccination site, the latest in many temporary duty locations Gilbert has had over the past year as he’s assisted with the state’s COVID-19 response.
He didn’t think much about the incident until he saw Deppe on the news, trying to find the Soldier who helped her in her moment of need. Because of her outreach, and the help of the local news, the two of them did reconnect, talking on the phone February 3rd.
“I just want to say thank you so much for making sure that I was okay and taking the time to keep me calm and keeping me from further injuring myself,” said Deppe. “It’s just really nice to know there are people out there who will stop and go that extra mile for a complete stranger.”