By Susan VanBoening
U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command
Marine Corps Maj. Leslie Seaton hopped into his vehicle to make the short drive from his home in Venus, Texas, to a family member's home June 30th.
Seaton, Dallas MEPS executive officer, couldn’t imagine he would stumble on an accident, let alone rescue two little girls trapped in an overturned van during a routine 15-minute trip.
The Texas native travels the route he took that day frequently. Seaton said his familiarity with the area gave him the initial impression that the car accident, and the situation, didn't appear to be grave.
"At first I passed the accident, I saw a woman and a man standing outside the vehicle. Everything looked okay. It looked like no one was panicking," he said.
The Marine kept driving. A few seconds passed, then his gut instinct told him to go back.
"I felt guilty about not going to check," he said. "So I turned around. I thought that the people already on-site would probably say 'No, we're good' because no one looked panicked."
But appearances were deceiving.
When Seaton pulled up and stepped out of his vehicle another bystanders signaled to him there were kids trapped in the car. After unsuccessfully trying to break through the windshield, Seaton and the fellow bystanders saw the driver's side door facing upward. Together they were able to climb up the vehicle and get the door open, where they came face to face with the driver.
"I told him to get out of the way. I'll get the kids," he said.
Gaining entrance through the driver's side door and lowering himself down into the vehicle, Seaton felt immediate relief to see the two girls only seemed to suffer cuts and scrapes. They were sitting calmly on the passenger side wall, which had become the bottom of the overturned vehicle.
At the moment, being a seasoned parent helped Seaton extract the first child from the wreckage.
"I reached down for the first child, and I realized that she was buckled in her seat. Being a dad myself, it only took me a second to figure out the buckle. I got her out and lifted her to hand her off outside the vehicle's top through the driver's door to the other guy. Once she was clear, I crawled down and had to go to the back row of the vehicle where the other little girl was."
Once everyone was out from the overturned vehicle, Seaton assessed the situation. He was shocked at how fast something he assumed wasn't a big deal suddenly turned into a situation that needed outside parties to help.
"By the time I got the second girl out, I saw a cop pull up. It was probably only 5 or 6 minutes from the time I got there."
Seaton also noticed the apprehension of the young passengers when the first responders arrived.
"The little girls were too scared. They didn't want to let the paramedics talk to them."
Seaton knew one way to calm their fears was to show the girls even though he's a stranger, he has a daughter and knows sometimes she gets scared too.
"I thought to myself, 'these little girls are scared', so I showed them a picture of my daughter and told them that the paramedics are going to make sure they're okay."
For Seaton, the event lasted less than 20 minutes. He made it to his destination later in the evening and, along the way, took some time to reflect on the entire ordeal.
"I want to say what I did is what anyone would do. But the reality is, I watched like 10 or 15 cars pass by that never stopped to help them," he said. “It's hard for people to want to get involved because you don't know the situation."
At the end of it all, the Marine, who will retire next year out of Dallas MEPS, the same MEPS where he took his oath almost 20 years ago, offers some simple advice to others.
"Go do the right thing. You never know when someone does need help."