California’s Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA) TSA Officer Michael Abayon was relaxing in the passenger seat, watching a video on his phone when he heard TSA Officer Max Pineda Echeverria shout from behind the steering wheel and pump the breaks.
“I looked up to see a cloud of dust as we slowly drove up to see what happened,” said Abayon.
The officers were carpooling to work when just ahead of them a silver SUV hit the back side of a red SUV. The sudden impact knocked the red car off the freeway, up an embankment and back down to the freeway, landing on the car’s driver side across the right lane.
“Fortunately, we were a couple cars behind and far enough on the left lane to avoid it, but [close] enough for Max to completely witness it,” said Abayon.
“I reacted fast and came to a complete and safe stop on the freeway,” said a startled Pineda Echeverria, worried for the safety of the passengers.
“Max and I had the same thought to pull over and see if we can help,” said Abayon, who called 911 and reported the details of the accident. “It was even more reassuring once we saw Brian pull over, too.”
SBA Lead TSA Officer Brian Tamayo, a few cars behind the Pineda Echeverria and Abayon, also witnessed the crash, pulled around the wreck and stopped just as his colleagues exited their car to check on the accident victim.
After a quick check to make sure each of them was not hurt, their attention turned to the overturned car.
“The vehicle was leaking fluids onto the highway, and steam was coming out of the front,” said Tamayo. “I tried to open the doors, but they were locked.”
They found only one passenger in the car who appeared to be conscious and stuck behind the wheel, but they weren’t able to communicate with her.
“I got a mallet out of my car and started to break the windshield,” said Pineda Echeverria, in an attempt to better hear the driver.
“Once we had a small opening, I was able to pull the glass apart to the point where we could communicate with the female driver,” recalled Tamayo.
Communicating in Spanish, the victim gave them permission to help her out of the car and covered her face with a towel as they continued to remove the glass. Once the windshield was out of the way, Tamayo extended his hand to the passenger, but the angle of the car and her apparent injuries made it impossible for her to climb out.
Not wanting to cause further physical harm to the victim, the officers agreed to wait with her untill paramedics arrived. Tamayo finally had time to call the airport and report all three might be a little late for duty.
“While we waited for the paramedics, I remember the female inside the SUV began to pray alongside other witnesess who assisted us,” said Tamayo. “ She also asked us to notify her family of her accident.”
The officers briefed first reponders when they arrived on the scene. As the trio headed back to their cars, firefighters got ready to cut off the roof of the SUV.
“We felt it was our duty,” said Pineda Echeverria about the officers’ actions. “We did it because it was the right thing to do, TSA or not.”
“They are a perfect example of what we are all about — the commitment we have not only to each other, but to the public as well, ” said a proud Federal Security Director Anita Minaei.
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs