MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Late in the afternoon of June 18, Cpl. Matthew Mistretta, Lance Cpl. Cory Lucas, and Cpl. Philip Chronis were heading home from work, and Paul Atkins was released early from his shift at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif.
On what seemed like an ordinary day, their paths crossed at the intersection of El Camino Real in San Clemente, Calif., where they came together without hesitation to save the life of Ervin Hall.
Hall, a 66-year-old former Navy pilot, was driving to his home in Dana Point, Calif., when he crashed into a light pole on the intersection.
“Something in the steering wheel locked up. That’s all I remember from the accident. The next thing I know, I woke up in the hospital,” Hall said.
Atkins, a registered nurse at Mission Hospital, and his wife were stopped at the intersection’s traffic light when they heard a loud crash.
“The light pole came down on the hood of our car,” Atkins said. “I saw Hall’s car on the side of the road, so I told my wife to call 911, and I jumped out of my car.”
Mistretta, a squad leader with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and a native of Reno, Nev., was driving with Lucas, an infantry assaultman with the battalion’s Weapons Co., and a Phoenix native, toward the intersection when they witnessed Hall’s crash. Mistretta immediately parked his vehicle, and rushed to Hall’s aid.
“We established that he was dead, so we decided to pull him out of the car and start CPR,” Mistretta said.
Atkins didn’t hesitate to start the life-saving procedures.
“I didn’t feel a pulse, so I started chest compressions while the Marines were putting pressure on his wounds,” Atkins said.
Chronis, a squad leader with Weapons Co. and a Tampa, Fla., native, was also driving toward the intersection when he recognized his fellow Marine pulling Hall out of the crash. Without hesitation, he blocked off traffic with his truck and rushed to help Atkins and Mistretta.
“One of the first things that needed to happen was to stabilize his neck,” Chronis said. “So I took some rags from my car and made a makeshift splint around his neck.”
As Chronis held Hall’s neck, Mistretta kept pressure on his wounds, while Lucas redirected traffic.
Atkins, Chronis and Mistretta worked in unison to keep Hall alive. The emergency response team arrived within 15 minutes of the crash. Atkins said Hall lost his pulse twice before EMT arrived.
“We brought his pulse back and it was steady, then it died again,” Mistretta said. “We brought it back a second time but it was a weak pulse. At that time, the ambulance showed up.”
The Marines and Atkins continued to support the EMT as they loaded and defibrillated Hall in the ambulance. Once his vitals were established, he was taken to Mission Hospital, Atkins said.
Mistretta credits his training and experience from his combat deployment to Afghanistan for his decisive actions at the scene of the crash.
“Because of my combat live saver and live tissue training from 1st Marine Division Schools, I was able to act calm in the situation,” Mistretta said.
“Here in 5th Marines, we go over our combat life saver training at least once a month with our Marines,” Chronis said.
According to Mission Hospital’s media relations’ office, Hall was placed under a medically induced coma after undergoing surgery in the emergency room. On July 10, he met with the Chronis, Mistretta and Atkins at the hospital after several weeks of recovery.
“Being able to see him felt great. He looked good and his stitches were all healed up. He doesn’t look like the ‘Terminator’ anymore,” said Mistretta.
“It’s amazing that they were all there at the same time,” Hall said. “Between Atkins being a nurse and the Marines’ training, they were able to save my life.”