Family praises Navy corpsman's aid to rider in fatal motorcycle crash
By MATT MCNAB | The (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) Island Packet (TNS) | Published: October 30, 2015
(Tribune News Service) — Inside the store, there was no screeching of tires, no crunching of metal to signal what was about to come.
It was the gasp of the cashier and his glance out the window that first made Elchristopher Evans realize something was wrong.
As Evans, a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman working at Naval Hospital Beaufort, turned to look outside the Beaufort AutoZone two weeks ago today, he quickly realized why.
Across the street, a car had pulled out in front of Christopher Lambert's motorcycle on Boundary Street.
Evans watched as Lambert, 44, flew over the car and hit the pavement. He hadn't been wearing a helmet.
In an instant, Evans was out of the AutoZone, dodging traffic to get across the street. A group of three people had formed around Lambert. He was bleeding from his mouth and ears and was unresponsive.
None of the others were prepared to help.
A seven-year Navy veteran and a combat medic who served in Afghanistan, Evans quickly checked for vital signs. He found Lambert wasn't breathing, his pulse faint. Evans quickly started CPR.
Two and a half minutes later, he was relieved by emergency personnel who arrived on scene. He was just starting his third set of CPR, stained with Lambert's blood.
Time slowed to a crawl in the moment, but two weeks later, it all felt like a blur to Evans. He quickly realized Lambert needed help, and his instincts and training kicked in.
"It's all muscle memory, from all the training we do," he said. "You're it when you're on deployments. You are the Marines' lifeline. Any corpsman in that situation would have done the same thing without even thinking about it."
Without Evans's quick response and aid, Christopher Lambert would have died on the pavement that Friday afternoon, his sister Joselyn Bell said Wednesday.
Instead, Lambert survived long enough to be taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital, then flown to the trauma center at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Bell, who lives in Jacksonville, N.C., was able to make the five-and-a-half hour trek to Charleston to see her brother. She played him Metallica and other metal bands he was fond of in the hopes he would respond to it.
"I was hoping he would snap out of it, but I knew he wasn't going to get up," she said. "The doctors told us he had damaged his brain stem. He wasn't going to be the same."
Lambert hung on for two more days before succumbing to his injuries early Sunday morning on Oct. 18, Bell said. A native Beaufortonian, he was survived by a son, 21-year-old Christopher Lambert II.
Bell, who hadn't seen her brother since June, said Evans' aid gave the family time for final goodbyes, for some small closure in a whirlwind of grief.
"At least we were able to say goodbye to him," she said. It would have killed my mother if she had to go to the hospital to identify him. I got the closure I needed to say goodbye to him, and I think my nephew did, too."
Evans, who performed CPR on the bloodied Lambert without a breathing barrier, was taken to the Beaufort Memorial Hospital emergency room for a precautionary blood test. It was there he met Lambert's family, who thanked him for his efforts. He learned that the fiance of Lambert's father, Patricia Souviney, also worked at the Naval Hospital.
"It's crazy," Bell said. "Sometimes it's such a small world in Beaufort."
When Evans finally made it home, his wife didn't believe what had happened. The blood from his pants washed away her skepticism.
On Monday, Evans returned to work. He was called down to the office of the hospital's commanding officer — the first time he had ever stepped foot in her office after a year of working at the Naval Hospital.
Lambert's family was there. They broke the news that he had passed away over the weekend. Evans described to them what he had done to help Lambert.
"My mom was bawling," Bell said. "I'm not really a crier, but it truly was very emotional."
The family asked if there was any way to recognize Evans for his actions.
There was: on the spot, he was awarded the U.S. Navy Achievement Medal by commanding officer Capt. Anne Lear.
"I didn't think I'd get an award just for helping someone," he said.
Evans knew from an early age he wanted to serve; his father was a Navy veteran, his uncle a Marine. He searched for a position that offered the "best of both worlds," finding it as a First Marine Fleet hospital corpsman. As a combat medic, he had treated many injured servicemen, but the experience over the past two weeks has been different.
"You block it off and you don't want it to get to you," he said. "As a corpsman, you're the rock that everyone looks to. But it's a different aspect here. You're not dealing with just a Marine, you're dealing with the family of that person, and it's new to me."
The family invited Evans to Lambert's funeral, and he attended a few days later with some of the executive officers at the hospital. Bell said Evans was recognized at the funeral service, but she still wanted his actions honored.
"I kind of feel like it's still not enough for what he did," she said.
Evans and his fellow sailors are proud of the help he was able to give. But the moment is bittersweet, tinged by Lambert's death from injuries no amount of help would have been able to reverse.
"I wish the outcome was a little better," Evans said. "I'm glad I could do what I could for someone who needed help, but this would have been better if Christopher Lambert was alive."
©2015 The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.