Camp Pendleton Marines receive medals for saving life of severely injured motorcyclist

Major General Robert F. Castellvi awards Sgt. Devon Espinoza the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal during a ceremony at Camp Pendleton on Friday, December 21, 2018. Espinoza and five other Marines helped save the life of a Riverside motorcyclist after they were the first to come across the accident returning from a camping trip in Big Bear.


By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: December 22, 2018

CAMP PENDLETON (Tribune News Service) — Sgt. Devon Espinoza describes how he and five other Camp Pendleton Marines saved the life of a Riverside man severely injured in a motorcycle accident as being in “Marine mode.”

The rider, Floyd McGuirk, 58, was sprawled in the roadway, his right leg partially severed, on SR 330 near Big Bear on Nov. 4. He was in shock, losing blood and drifting in and out of consciousness.

Two motorcyclists with him were frantically waving for help.

Espinoza, 26, a heavy equipment mechanic with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, was first on scene. He assessed McGuirk’s injuries and directed his fellow Marines into action.

Within three minutes, the group had applied a tourniquet. They kept McGuirk conscious until first responders from the San Bernardino County Fire Department arrived about 20 minutes later.

Covered in blood, the Marines stayed around to help the emergency personnel by controlling bystanders and traffic, relaying information they had gathered and helping to put McGuirk on a spine board for transport.

On Friday, Dec. 21, Espinoza, of San Clemente, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal in a ceremony at the headquarters of the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion.

The five other Marines — Sgt. Kyle Henne, 28, of Amarillo, Texas; Cpl. Mark Dass, 23, of Los Angeles; Cpl. Alex Koeneke, 23, of Redding; Cpl. Alec Leonard, 24, of Niceville, Fla.; and Cpl. Jay Wehrenberg, 22, of Rochester, Minn. — were presented with Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.

The medals were given to the Marines as the rest of their battalion stood in formation. Espinoza’s friends and family were also present.

Major Gen. Robert Castellvi, commander of the 1st Marine Division, pinned Espinoza’s award to his blouse.

“It’s a great honor for me to be here,” he said. “This reminds me why I love the NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and sergeants. They are the backbone of our Corps. When Sgt. Espinoza got in front of me today, it reminds me of what a Marine NCO is all about.

“What this sergeant did in a split second of seeing a crisis, not just him, but five Marines who were with him, who had no idea that as they were going down a road that day they’d have an opportunity to save a man’s life,” Castellvi said. “You should all be proud of him and you should be proud of each other.”

The Marines, who all work with heavy equipment, are part of a platoon that already has risen to the command’s attention for achievement.

Lt. Col. Michelle Macander, who in June became the first female Marine to be named commander of a ground combat element when she took over the battalion, praised her Marines for their lifesaving actions.

“They came upon a situation and knew they had to help,” Macander said. “I’m impressed but not surprised. That platoon is one of the top performing platoons in the battalion. They’re a tight-knit group. I’m proud of what they did. It shows they’re good citizens in the community.”

Marine mode

The group of Marines had been on leave for the weekend — camping in tents and hiking at Big Bear.

As they headed back toward Camp Pendleton, they came upon the crash. Espinoza, in the lead car, saw McGuirk in the roadway. He recognized the man was in shock. His right leg had been severed due to the force of the motorcycle impact with the guard rail.

“I called back up to my friends and I was able to think about what the Marine Corps has taught me, ” Espinoza said. “I kinda just went into Marine mode and saw that someone needed help and utilized a lot of training we had learned and helped him out. Doing this type of training all the time, it just seemed like secondhand nature.”

As the other Marines arrived, Espinoza talked with McGuirk to keep him conscious. He instructed bystanders to call 911 and at the same time, Espinoza helped the other Marines apply one of their belts as a tourniquet. That helped reduce the flow of blood from the severed leg.

Moments later, an off-duty San Bernardino County Fire employee gave the Marines a proper tourniquet.

After exposing the left leg, the Marines realized it, too, was badly injured. They applied a second tourniquet while Espinoza continued to apply pressure with his knee and tried to calm McGuirk.

Espinoza and the other Marines carefully removed the damaged motorcycle helmet. McGuirk gave them his name and asked what had happened to him. To keep him calm, Espinoza and Wehrenberg downplayed his injuries.

Within three minutes the Marines had McGuirk stabilized and talking.

Each of the Marines credits their military training, especially their combat lifesaving course, for their actions that day.

“The reason none of us felt nervous was that we all had the same training, same energy and all of us are really close friends,” said Wehrenberg. “All of us could just look at each other and figure out what was next. I felt like a puzzle piece of six.”

“In that kind of situation, there’s no time to hesitate,” Leonard added. “We’ve all been trained for combat situations and combat lifesaving and when we all realized someone’s life was at stake that kicked in. We all knew what our parts were. There was no time to waste or this man would lose his life.”

Espinoza said he spoke with McGuirk’s girlfriend last week who said he was doing well.

“I’m happy that Floyd is able to spend the holidays with family, instead of them planning a funeral,” Espinoza said.

©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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