The first day on a new job: It’s more likely a day of human resources paperwork than of highway heroism.
Not so for Donavan Allen.
The Edgewood electrician barely had met his new partner on the morning of March 20 and set off on a call to Santa Fe when a fatal rollover crash on Interstate 25 sent shards of wreckage flying and cars veering toward him.
That’s when Allen and fellow electrician Seth Stevenson, employees of Albuquerque-based B&D Enterprises, sprang into action — ultimately extracting survivors from an upside-down vehicle and attempting to resuscitate the crash’s sole victim.
They “really were a helping hand,” said Ray Wilson, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Police, which headed the crash investigation and confirmed the duo’s role in the rescue mission.
Stevenson and Allen were headed north on I-25 from Albuquerque when, according to police reports, the driver of a Ford Expedition towing a Dodge pickup on a flatbed trailer lost control of the vehicle near the N.M. 599 exit. The Expedition rolled off the road and landed upside down, and the trailer disconnected, careening into another vehicle.
“Everything just started wrecking across the highway,” Stevenson said. “It was super fast — amazingly fast.”
“[Seth] was like, ‘Hey, we gotta help those people get out of the car,’ ” Allen said.
The duo pulled over and ran to the Expedition. Stevenson said he crawled in through the front driver’s side window and saw two toddler girls strapped into car seats in the middle row.
“The first little girl, she was kicking and screaming,” he said. “It broke my heart.”
Stevenson unstrapped her, carried her out, gave her a hug and told her it was going to be OK, he said. Then he handed her off to Allen and went back in.
The second child, he said, “was not really moving much.” Panicked, he unstrapped her and carried her to Allen.
After removing an elderly woman with a bloody gash on her head from the front passenger seat, Stevenson and Allen noticed a man, the Expedition’s driver, in a state of shock outside the car. Nearby, a woman lay on the ground, unconscious. Stevenson started doing chest compressions. Soon after, a first responder arrived.
The state police officer ran up and took over chest compressions. Stevenson held the officer’s phone for him as he called for backup, he said.
After five minutes or so, the woman’s breath had diminished.
“[The officer and I] looked at each other,” Stevenson said. “We knew the lady had passed on. I said a little prayer.”
State police later said the woman, 68-year-old Zenaida Lopez of Kansas City, Kan., was not wearing a seat belt and had been thrown from the car.
Wilson, the state police spokesman, declined to release the names of the crash survivors or their current medical conditions. In the aftermath of the accident, all were hospitalized with varying injuries. One was in critical condition.
State police officers believe the family had purchased the Dodge in California and were towing it back to Kansas, Wilson said.
Stevenson, 36, and Allen, 29, each have at least a decade under their belts as electricians, but March 20 marked Allen’s first day with B&D. The crash, Stevenson said, proved a perfect character test for a new partner.
“I got to know my partner was a really good guy,” he said. “He jumped out and helped. We just wanted to get those people safe.”
Both men are parents. Allen, 29, has a 2-year-old son — the same age, he suspects, as one of the girls in the Expedition.
After his unique first day, Allen said he felt a bit rattled. That night, he dreamed of the crash and that it was his son buckled into one of the car seats.
Despite the dream, Allen said he’s glad he helped.
“I told Seth, I was like, ‘I’d want somebody to stop for me and help my kid get out,’ ” Allen said. “If I see something like that, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”