JACKSON, Mississippi (Jan. 14, 2021) – The morning of Jan. 14 started out as many others had before for 1st Lt. Matthew J. Cushing. He was on his way to Jackson State University, where he is an Assistant Professor of Military Science, ready to start the spring semester for the program. But this day was different – instead of starting out the morning teaching young ROTC cadets, he found himself in the middle of conflict, injured civilians and relying on his Army training.
While driving to the college to start the day, he came across the scene a major vehicle accident. He said it took a second to try to digest what had and was happening, before he decided to take actions, and possibly saving accident victims lives.
“I noticed three cars in an accident, one of which was completely totaled and smoking. There were two or three men arguing in the street about ten meters away from one of the cars and two people across the street with their phones out taking what appeared to be photos/video,” he said. “I pulled into a water treatment building where two workers were leaning against the wall watching the scene and asked them if everything was good but getting no response. Based on the inaction of those watching, I figured everyone was okay but for whatever reason I had to make sure.”
“As I approached the men to ask if everyone was alright, I heard a man from inside the totaled car. To be honest, I don’t really know how to describe what I heard and saw in those first few seconds, but they have been replaying in my head non-stop the past few days,” he went on to describe. “I ran over to the car to find the driver staring at his legs with blood all over his hands, head, and face. He was shaking and crying with a dead stare towards his legs. I looked at one of the guys that was in the street and told him to call 911 about the accident, as no one could give me an answer if they had called yet.”
Seeing the man who appeared to be in shock and severely injured, Cushing went to work to see how he could help until paramedics arrived.
“I reached into the car towards his feet to see how much space was between the frame of the car and the driver, there wasn’t enough room to get him out the passenger door. As I tried to pull the door open I kept telling him to look at me, but he was still in a daze,” Cushing remembered. “The door wasn’t opening and the smoke had gotten worse. The only thought that went through my head was that this man is about to burn alive while trapped in his car.
“I told two guys to keep trying to get the door open as I ran back to my truck to grab a car/marine fire extinguisher. Due to the crash, the window was slightly bent outwards. I told the two other guys to pull on the corner of the window frame and between the three of us we got it to move a few inches,” he shared. “The driver reached out towards me as I told him to put his arms around my neck. In the process, the driver got his blood over my face, mouth, neck, and uniform.
“We lifted him out of the car and I had one of the guys stop traffic. I carried him towards the side of the road towards my truck in case I needed to use the trauma kit located within it. We laid him down and I checked for MARCH (Massive Hemorrhage, Airway, Respirations, Circulation, Head Injury) as they teach in the Army,” Cushing said. “I did a blood sweep across his body only to find the blood was coming from a significant head wound. I grabbed the guy that helped me carry him over and had him use the driver’s jacket to keep pressure on his head as I went to check the other two cars not knowing who else was badly injured.”
Cushing then went to check on drivers and passengers in the other vehicles involved in the accident.
“When I got to the second car, a woman complained about her arm/shoulder which was pretty hurt but there was no signs of major bleeding. She said something about hearing gun shots coming from the car directly in front of hers and the driver running off on foot. I approached the third car’s driver door. She was right, the driver took off running beforehand, so I checked the remainder of the SUV to make sure no one else was in it,” he said. “With the second and third cars cleared I went back to the driver we pulled to the side of the road. At this time the first EMT arrived. We loaded him into the ambulance where they properly dressed his head wound and began to provide aid. I searched his car with a police officer to find his phone in the back which I used to call his girlfriend to let her know what had happened and what hospital he was going to.”
The Scarborough, Maine native said he felt he had to help, especially since he saw no one else taking action to help the injured.
“Something was just wrong when I pulled around the corner. This car was totaled, smoking and almost in my lane. People were arguing and no EMT were present,” he explained. “There were people watching so I figured everything was fine and that someone had already called 911, but for whatever reason I just had to make sure.”
He added, he wonders what would have happened to the injured motorists if he had not been there to start efforts to help them.
“To be honest, I’m quite disappointed that so many people did nothing to help. Two workers next to where I parked were just watching like it was Sunday Night Football, and two or three others were across the street updating their Snapchat/Instagram stories,” Cushing said. “No one intervened, even when they saw us frantically prying at the car door, and no one could tell me if they called 911. For God’s sake, there was an individual trapped in a smoking car crying for help and so many people did nothing.”
Cushing attributed his quick thinking and motivation to act in a serious situation to his training as Army officer.
“I feel like this event was no different than running platoon operations out in the desert/woods. Yes, there is a level of planning that is carefully considered during operations, but as they say, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” At the end of the day, as a leader you are expected to make decisive decisions within split seconds in hostile and austere environments,” he said. “While there was no “planning” involved with the incident that morning, I was thrown into a chaotic situation where someone’s life may have depended on my decisions and ability to delegate tasks. In that regard, the Army has prepared me well even in a situation where I was working with complete strangers. Additionally, the Army does well in training Combat Life Saving skills which I found out has more applications than just combat. Understanding the process to evaluate a casualty is vital in preparing Soldiers for future operations.”
Cushing said he hopes his Cadets and Soldiers from his experience and apply some of the lessons if they find themselves in an emergency situation.
“I hope no other Soldier finds themselves involved in a situation like this, but sadly that is not realistic. Emergency situations happen more often than we would like. As I tell my Soldiers/Cadets, you never know when you will be called upon for deployment, emergency situations, etc. The best thing an individual can do is prepare for the unknown, stay in shape, and be confident in their abilities,” he advised. “Physical training should be a priority each day for Soldiers as it takes years to hone, and you never know when you may be carrying someone or prying open a car window frame. If another Soldier finds themselves involved in a chaotic situation like this, you have to take control. Be the level-headed individual who understands what needs to be done, what the priority is, and how to manage those around you. Understand that no matter who is involved, we need to look after each other.”
Cushing has been with the Jackson State University ROTC program since September 2020 where he is serving as part of Cadet Command’s General Patton Internship Program. He said he aspires to set a good example and inspire Cadets in the program.
“The Patton program was designed to help improve diversity within the Army’s combat arms branches. As a Patton lieutenant, I provide the Cadets with instruction and mentorship in order to be well prepared as future leaders,” he said. “I am passionate about the Army training/physical fitness and stress the importance of these attributes to the Cadets each day. At the end of the day I hope to become a mentor and role model for the Cadets to look up to, and reach out to in the future.”