Sgt. Ian Rivera, an intelligence analyst with Headquarters Company, 2/8, departed Camp Lejeune at approximately 1 p.m. that day, traveling north on Interstate 95 to spend Thanksgiving with family in Caroline County, Va.
About three hours into his drive, four miles south of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., a single car triggered a four-vehicle collision that struck a couple in a Mazda 3 the hardest.
“I was about two cars behind,” said Rivera, a native of Virginia Beach, Va. “I jumped out onto the shoulder of the left side of the road and ran to them. “I wanted to make sure they were OK.”
Upon stopping outside of the driver’s door, he realized smoke was rapidly emerging from what remained of the vehicle’s engine. Rivera quickly mobilized bystanders, several of them other active duty Marines and soldiers, to tend to the woman in the driver’s seat.
She was in an incoherent state after suffering the crash and a deployed air bag, but eventually revealed that her husband, Army Capt. Ben Sylvester, was immobilized in the backseat.
Sylvester had previously undergone knee reconstruction surgery two weeks prior following an injury sustained during an Airborne jump. He was helpless due to a hip-to-ankle brace on his right leg.
“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.
Rivera acted with haste with the help of others on scene to drag Sylvester out, and then grabbed a water bottle from his vehicle to pour onto the now burning engine. Shortly after, a second fire broke out, this time from under the vehicle, though the fortunate arrival of a bystander with a fire extinguisher allowed Rivera to quickly put it out.
Once Sylvester and his wife were evacuated from the vehicle, Rivera again directed the remaining bystanders to push the wrecked vehicle over to the emergency lane.
“Sgt. Rivera has always been level-headed,” said Cpl. Nicholas Veasey, an intelligence analyst with H&S Co., 2/8. “The junior Marines under him can always learn from his mentorship.”
Rivera spoke with the couple and stayed by their side until police and paramedics arrived on scene approximately 30 minutes later. All others involved in the crash were found to be in safe condition.
“It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” Rivera said. “It’s what I was supposed to do.”
Upon his return to base the following Monday, his command recognized him for his heroic actions, with some Marines even nick-naming him “The Hero of 95.”
Sylvester and his wife expressed their gratitude to Rivera as well, acknowledging that he was instrumental in saving them from clear and present danger.
“I can honestly say I have never been so impressed with a noncommissioned officer’s conduct as I was with Sgt. Rivera that day,” Sylvester wrote. “Through his actions, he literally saved the day. My wife and I are eternally grateful.”
Rivera regarded his own actions as what anyone would do, and felt relieved that through fast thinking and acting, those involved live to see another day.