Medals awarded to freeway lifesavers

LOS ANGELES – Traffic at midnight in Los Angeles is not unheard of. For Coast Guard Seaman Alberto Castilleja and Coast Guard Fireman Sean Reisner it was getting frustrating. On the night of December 15, 2007 they were on the 405 freeway heading home after a 14-hour law enforcement patrol aboard the Coast Guard cutter Halibut. It looked as though they were going to be in bumper-to-bumper traffic for at least another hour.

“At first I thought it was just another accident. People were just driving by.” said Fireman Reisner, age 19 of Gloucester, Va. However, as the two neared the crumpled car in the middle of the busy freeway they both realized there was someone still inside.

“When my headlights hit the car we could see the guy behind the wheel. Then everything went to a blur,” said Reisner. They pulled over and jumped out of their car. “I just knew we had to do something,” said Seaman Castilleja, age 20 of Chula Vista, Calif.

Time was short as flames began to engulf the engine compartment. “We had to pull him out, the car was catching on fire,” said Castilleja. They both could feel the rush of air as cars passed within feet of them. While Castilleja attempted to pull the driver out, Reisner used a fire extinguisher from a passing motorist to put down the flames.

The driver was wedged underneath the steering wheel and dashboard. “He was in there tight, but both of us were able to pull him out through the window,” said Castilleja. They provided first aid until the highway patrol and paramedics arrived.

“We were both shaken up. It really didn’t hit us until we got home,” said Reisner. Castilleja recalls the smell of the burning car and being covered in glass.

Reisner called his mom in Virginia to tell her what had happened. “It was crazy, but we knew what we had to do,” he said. He credits his Coast Guard training in first aid and firefighting for knowing how to respond to the situation.

For their heroic actions and placing themselves in harms way they were both awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal at a ceremony on January 25, 2008 in their cutter’s homeport of Marina Del Rey, Calif.

Marina Del Rey, Calif. (Jan. 25, 2008) – Coast Guard Seaman Alberto Castilleja and Fireman Sean Reisner after being awarded the U.S. Coast Guard Commendation Medal for heroic actions while placing themselves in harms way while saving a car accident victim on December 15, 2007. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt j.g. Andrew Muñoz)

Coast Guard Seaman Alberto Castilleja and Fireman Sean Reisner after being awarded the U.S. Coast Guard Commendation Medal for heroic actions while placing themselves in harms way while saving a car accident victim on December 15, 2007.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt j.g. Andrew Muñoz

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