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Vandenberg spouse thinks fast, saves life

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The spouse of an active duty 30th Security Forces Squadron technical sergeant here used quick thinking and emergency medical training to help save the life of a car accident victim on Highway 1 in Lompoc Sept. 12.

Teala Doeppke, wife of Tech. Sgt. Scott Doeppke had just dropped her daughter off at pre-school and was on her way to get ice cream with her son when her leisurely plans turned chaotic.

"I was driving south on Highway 1 between the main gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Lompoc Gate," Doeppke said. "We were driving around the first curve that dips down, and I saw a huge cloud of dirt and break lights, then a white car upside down sliding across the road."

Doeppke, an emergency medical technician and former volunteer firefighter, immediately took life-saving action.

"I pulled over, rolled down the windows, turned off the truck and grabbed my pocket mask out of my glove box," Doeppke said. "My truck was sandwiched in by two other vehicles, and I asked the guy in front of me if he called 911."

Doeppke and two other good Samaritans worked to stabilize the victim while waiting for an ambulance.

"As I ran to the wreckage, a guy was cutting the seat belt off the driver," Doeppke said. "The driver was the only person in the car. We got him off the road and off to the side. I checked him out head to toe and tried to calm him down while holding his neck in place, just in case there was some sort of spinal injury, and waited."

The accident happened in an instant, but the driver, a 19-year-old college student, had no recollection.

"While we waited, he asked me why he was shaking, and I told him, 'Because you were in a car wreck," Doeppke said. The injured driver replied, "'I was in a wreck?'"

The disoriented driver may not have been aware of the accident, but he was aware of the care Doeppke provided.

"I asked him what he remembers, and he said his wheel felt weird but he was going to be late for class," Doeppke said. "He said he grabbed his phone to check the time. Next thing he remembered was me telling him 'you're alright, but you're going to be sore tomorrow'. He said wanted to give me a hug."

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers is the under-20 age group. Approximately 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.

Doeppke believes that following proper driving safety regulations is imperative to keep distracted driving fatalities at a minimum.

"It doesn't matter if you are military, a dependent, or a civilian," Doeppke said. "Driving laws and regulations are in place to save lives. Years of accidents and many deaths later, these laws move into place to stop the numbers [from rising] in the future."

Some may think Doeppke's EMT training may have drove her instinct to stop and help, but she believed it was the golden rule.

"I did my job as a human being," Doeppke said. "I would want someone to help my mother, my friend or me if I were ever in the same position. I believe in the 'do unto others as you would like done to you' rule."