Airman hailed ‘a hero’ after helping trapped motorist, child

  • Published
  • By Susan A. Romano
  • AFTAC Public Affairs
What was supposed to be a typical drive home turned into an act of heroism for one Airman stationed at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla.
Senior Airman Tyler Johnson had just finished his shift as a Subsurface Operations Manager for the 22nd Surveillance Squadron at the Air Force Technical Applications Center April 13.  As was his daily routine, he left the base and headed westbound on Pineda Causeway.  While making his way home, he noticed a blue vehicle swerving in and out of traffic, so he slowed down to give the swerving driver ample room to proceed.  Unfortunately, the swerving vehicle clipped another driver, causing the second vehicle to flip several times, end-over-end, finally landing upside down on the causeway guardrails.
Johnson immediately pulled over, turned on his hazard lights, and dialed 9-1-1 to call for help.
“When I was able to cross the highway to get over to the flipped car, it looked bad,” Johnson said.  “I thought the people inside would be seriously hurt – or worse.  But I heard a woman’s voice coming from inside who said, ‘I’m OK. I have a baby!’  So I knew I needed to somehow free them from the pinned vehicle.”
A second passer-by came over to help Johnson rock the vehicle enough to get the driver’s door open and the woman passed the toddler through the small opening they were able to create.  Johnson immediately inspected the infant to ensure he wasn’t in need of immediate triage, while the second individual helped the driver crawl out from around the vehicle’s exploded airbags.
When first responders arrived, one officer asked Johnson to enter the overturned vehicle to confirm that it was empty.  Once all involved were out of harm’s way and medics attended to the injured, law enforcement began taking statements from those on scene.
Johnson, a father of two, stopped to render aid because he said, “it was the right thing to do.”
“I grew up in the mountains, and I have seen a lot of bad car wrecks in my lifetime,” he explained.  “I myself was in a pretty bad accident on icy roads with my mother and sister.  We were fortunate enough to have other drivers stop to help, and that’s what came to my mind when I saw this situation.”
The California native came to AFTAC two years ago and has worked for the nuclear treaty monitoring center since arriving on Florida’s Space Coast in 2021.  His commander was impressed with his decisiveness and willingness to put himself in danger.
“We are all amazed and inspired by Tyler’s heroism and life-saving actions,” said Col. James A. Finlayson, AFTAC commander.  “I named him our ‘AFTACer of the Week’ but he deserves much more praise than that.  I commend him for stepping up to help out those in distress, and I’m sure those involved in the wreck are also glad he was there to provide assistance.”
Johnson’s First Sergeant, Master Sgt. Kenneth Marcheterre, wasn’t surprised by his subordinate’s selfless efforts.
“Senior Airman Johnson’s actions are a true testament to his everyday behaviors that he’s displayed since the day I met him,” said Marcheterre.  “He continues to put forth 100 percent every day while striving to not only develop himself, but others around him. It is an honor to work alongside the future of the United States Air Force.”
Florida Highway Patrol is responsible for patrolling the Sunshine State’s 49 million miles of roadways, including Pineda Causeway in Brevard County. 
FHP’s Public Affairs Officer echoed Finlayson’s comments and commended Johnson’s actions.
“FHP appreciates Good Samaritans who stop to assist crash victims in their time of need,” said Lt. Tara Crescenzi, FHP Troop D.  “These individuals are sometimes the first call for help and are able to gather key details for first responders to respond with accurate information. We appreciate those who also focus on their own safety while helping others. Safety is an important responsibility, and we all must work together for a safer Florida.”
When asked what he thought about being hailed a hero, Johnson shied away from the remark.
“I don’t feel very comfortable with it put that way,” he said.  “I was dismayed by the number of people who just kept driving by without stopping, and that should be the norm, not the exception to the rule, to stop and help during an emergency.”
He added, “I want more people to realize that you don’t have to be a bystander.  If something frightening or dangerous happens right in front of you, you should help.  Obviously, don’t get in the way of professionals and first responders, but they won’t always be there right away.  Just think about how you would feel if you or your child were in danger, and people drove by thinking to themselves, ‘Oh, someone else can help.’  I’m just glad someone was there that day to help and I hope those involved are on the road to recovery.”