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March Airman among first responders at off-road tragedy

  • Published
  • By Megan Just
  • 452nd Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
An Air Force reservist from March's 452nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron put his life-saving skills to work Aug. 14 as he was among the first responders in a rollover crash that killed eight people and injured 12 during an off-road race near Lucerne Valley, Calif.

The 200-mile night race was part of the Mojave Desert Race series, and it had barely begun when Airman 1st Class Gabriel Grohowsky witnessed a truck lose control on an obstacle known as "the rockpile." The truck flew into a crowd of spectators at an estimated speed of 40-50 mph.

"As it landed, it pointed into the crowd and flipped over on top of them," said the communication navigation system maintenance specialist.

For the first few seconds, Airman Grohowsky froze in place before going to the people strewn across the ground.

"Who do I go to first? There are so many people. What do I do?" Airman Grohowsky remembers thinking as he approached the accident site.

Airman Grohowsky, trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation during a college course and again in basic military training, assessed victims and moved past those whose injuries were not life threatening.

"It was such a mess," he said. "Just chaotic. It was like a riot. Everyone was freaking out and starting to get into fights. They started rolling the truck back over, but they were rolling it on more people."

Airman Grohowsky stopped to provide care when he reached an unresponsive young woman bleeding from her ears, nose and mouth.

"I had a couple of other people help me roll her on to her side to clear her airway," he said. "Her pulse started getting weaker and weaker and eventually it stopped. I started giving her CPR."

He was unable to revive her.

"I didn't want to give up," he said. "But I knew there wasn't much I could do with a head injury like that."

After the young woman passed away, Airman Grohowsky administered care to others. When the ambulances arrived, he helped carry victims and prioritize those who needed air evacuation.

It wasn't until the next day that Airman Grohowsky considered how close he was to the accident and possible death.

Just before the start of the race, he and friends walked from the side of the course where they had been standing, to their campsite. They were returning to the join the crowd at the rockpile when they saw the truck launch into the air. He estimates he was 100 feet from the spot the truck landed.

"I would have definitely been right there where it happened," Airman Grohowsky said. "God was looking over me at the time."

He said the days following the accident were difficult for him. He kept wondering if there was anything he could have done differently to save the young woman's life.

"I try to stay busy to keep my mind off of it," he said. "I did all that I could do at the time, and I've got to live with that. It was her time to go. It was out of my control."

Airman Grohowsky's supervisor, Master Sgt. David Murillo, learned about his airman's actions at the 452nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron supervisor's meeting the next day.

Sergeant Murillo said Airman Grohowsky's exemplary response is a reminder for Airmen to take their CPR and Self Aid Buddy Care training seriously.

"You don't know when it's going to be that one time when you need it, and it's for real," Sergeant Murillo said.