CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Sergeant Richard Skates, an amphibious assault vehicle crewman serving with Charlie Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, had no way of knowing that his character and first aid knowledge would save the lives of four after a car crash July 9.
Skates, his wife and their baby were traveling on an exit ramp from state Route 78 to Interstate Highway 5 when they noticed a large cloud of dirt and debris. As they drove closer, it became apparent to them that a vehicle had veered off the road, through a fence, and overturned into a ditch.
“At first, we thought it was a dust storm,” said Skates a 25-year-old native of O’Fallon, Mo. “Once we got closer, I thought maybe a motorcycle had hit the fence because of the way it was damaged. Then as we came up to it, I saw a car pointing its nose straight up to the sky.”
Skates didn’t hesitate to rush to the crash site despite being released hours earlier from medical with injuries from a separate incident. The fencing around the ravine was trampled down where the car had gone through.
“I saw the fence was broken down and the power line pole had been knocked in half,” said Jacqueline Skates, a 22-year-old O’Fallon, Mo., native. “As I came to a stop, Richard jumped out, and I called 911. He just instantly knew what to do and how to help. He just got in there.”
Skates assessed the situation once he reached the vehicle and realized that the family needed to evacuate the car quickly.
“I could hear them screaming for help as I got to the car,” Skates said. “Everyone in the vehicle was injured and struggling to get free. I remember seeing the little girl in the back with her brother and she was trying to be brave.”
Making a split-second decision, he reached in the back window and started pulling the children out first. Though chaos ensued in the vehicle, Skates kept his cool and rescued both children from the back seat and the teenager from the passenger seat. He assisted them out of the car and into the care of motorists who stopped to help.
“He was in there for what seemed like forever,” Jacqueline said. “There were other men outside holding the car up by hand so it didn’t roll over and hurt anyone else. Everyone at the scene was in helping mode. ”
Skates crawled through the passenger side window once the children were safely out. He assessed the driver of the car and talked to her to keep her mind off of the crash and keep her conscious.
He was able to use his combat lifesaver training to recognize that although she was bloody, she was able to move both of her arms and legs without restriction from her injuries.
“I got everyone out but the driver. A California Highway Patrol officer told me to sit tight and remain in the vehicle because the car was shaking too much,” Skates said.
The CHP officer who arrived on the scene instructed them to wait for emergency services and towing crew who would help stabilize the vehicle by rolling it onto its roof. Skates told the driver to place her hands on the roof of the vehicle and make sure her feet were planted firmly on the floor to brace for the rollover.
“The car was on its side in the ditch with my husband and the driver still inside,” said Jacqueline. “He helped her position herself in the car so the roll wouldn’t hurt her.”
Both the driver and Skates exited the car safely after the fire department and towing crew rolled the vehicle.
“As soon as the car rolled, I helped her turn and crawl out of the window to the CHP officer,” Skates said. “After that, we had to evacuate the area because the power lines were knocked down, and it was too dangerous to hang around.”
Skates credits the decisiveness of his actions to CLS and other first responder training he has received with throughout his career.
“We all received basic lifesaving techniques in recruit training,” Skates said. “It’s funny how quick that stuff comes right back when you need it. It just hit me. I thought, this is how I do it, and this is what needs to happen.”
Jacqueline said her husband is a good Samaritan at heart who doesn’t mind assisting anyone in need.
“It’s a really good thing we have someone like Richard out there,” Jacqueline said. “He just wants to help everyone.”
“He is the definition of what a (noncommissioned officer) and a professional Marine sergeant should be,” said Capt. Matthew Hohl, native of Clinton, Mass. “Both engaging junior marines and his peers and dealing with them on a daily basis for myself and the master sergeant. He is a fire and forget Marine. Always keeping the leadership and myself in the loop so we don’t have to worry.”
Skates has been deployed two times from 3rd AABn. acting as an AAV crewman in addition to billets outside the range of his formal training. Stopping to assist in the rescue of this family is just the typical behavior Skates’ chain of command has come to expect of him said Hohl.
“He did really well while deployed. Tactically he has always been a sound individual. He’s the one who takes charge in the heat of the moment,” said 2nd Lt. Tyrel Camble a Salt Lake City native. “When everyone else seems to be at a loss when no one knows what to do, he is the one who knows what to do and directs everyone accordingly. He is your top tier NCO and he is motivated.”