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News | Aug. 29, 2017

DLA Distribution Susquehanna employee acts as first responder: Credits actions at accident scene to being ‘in the right place at the right time’

By Brian Sipp DLA Distribution Public Affairs

The morning of Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 began like any other for Paul J. Smith, a traffic management specialist with the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania.  

He was driving his vehicle, slowly winding his way down Old York Road, on his way to work. It was 6:45 a.m., traffic was light, and he was right on time. He had just passed through the stoplight at the intersection of Airport Road when he noticed a white tractor trailer ahead, pulled off on the right side of the road. 

This was not unusual, as tractor-trailer drivers often pull off the road to sleep or wait for their scheduled appointments to load or unload.  

What was unusual was seeing a nearly-new, blue-gray, Plymouth minivan, with an American Taxi placard on top and which Smith had been following during his morning commute, suddenly weave erratically and drive straight into the left rear corner of the parked semi-trailer. 

“My first thought was that I hoped the driver was still alive,” recalled Smith.  “I also prayed that there were no passengers in this vehicle, as the right-front area [of the minivan] was completely destroyed by the impact.”

Smith alertly stopped behind the accident, positioning his vehicle in the lane of traffic to protect the damaged vehicle.  He immediately exited and moved toward the driver’s door to check on the condition of the driver.

“When I got there the driver was a bit disoriented, but did not seem to be injured,” Smith said.  “I checked for passengers and was relieved that the driver was the only occupant of the vehicle.” 

Smith immediately called 911 and worked on opening the driver’s side door.

“I remember being concerned about a potential fire. There was a lot of debris and the powder from the airbag deployment created a haze that initially looked like smoke.  Once I checked again that the driver was alone in the vehicle and did not appear to be injured, I wanted to get him out and moved to a safe distance,” added Smith.

Smith assisted the driver out of the vehicle and waited for the Fairview Township Police Department to arrive and take control of the scene. 

“I am just glad I was able to handle the situation and that no one was hurt seriously; it could have been much worse,” said Smith.  “I feel like God put me in the right place at the right time in order to help that driver.” 

When asked how it feels to be a hero, Smith added, “I don’t think I am a hero; I was actually just in the wrong place at the right time.” 

The accident is currently under investigation by the Fairview Township Police Department.

Paul J. Smith is a current employee of the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania where he works as a Traffic Management Officer.  He is also a former U.S. Marine who retired in 2007 as a Major/O-4 with 28 years of service.