On their way to the Jamboree, Scouters stop to save a life in D.C.

Photo by Michael Roytek

There was something unusual about the way the vehicle moved in front of the bus full of Scouts in the middle of a busy intersection in Washington, D.C. It didn’t simply cut them off, as an aggressive driver might do. Instead, it slowed down, weaving tentatively between lanes.

From the view of the adults watching from the bus, it was clear that something was wrong.

“That woman is having a seizure,” said Ada Conner-Coash, one of four adult volunteers from Oregon’s Crater Lake Council who was on the bus.

Immediately, the adults sprang into action.

Conner-Coash asked the bus driver to stop, then grabbed a first-aid kit. Another adult, Matt Patten, called 911. Within seconds, the doors to the bus opened and two other adults — Matt Banton and Lorraine Martinelli — sprinted toward the vehicle.

They arrived before it had even come to a complete stop.

“Our instincts kicked in,” says Banton, “and we ran down there to provide assistance.”

More than 35 BSA youth members were on the bus. Some had flown in from Portland, Oregon. The rest had flown from Sacramento, California. They had a busy three days planned in the D.C. area, including stops at the National Air and Space Museum, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, among others.

Then, they would head down to the 2023 National Scout Jamboree.

The stop in the middle of that intersection was not part of the plan, but as the adults had learned in Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training months earlier, things don’t always go as planned.

WFA trained

Every group of Scouts visiting the Jamboree is accompanied by multiple adult leaders, one of which is required to hold a current WFA certificate.

This group of Scouts had decided to take it a step further and have all four adults certified.

“We thought it would be best for all four of us leaders to take CPR and Wilderness First Aid training,” says Martinelli, “in order to have several layers of people with medical training.”

The great thing about WFA is that it doesn’t just prepare you for backcountry emergencies. It helps you develop the mindset needed to make the right decision in any medical-related crisis, no matter the location.

WFA is designed to help adult volunteers and older youth Be Prepared for emergencies in a remote environment where care from a physician is not readily available. The situation in D.C. happened in the middle of a busy city, but as it turned out, the adults’ ability to keep their cool and respond properly helped them save the driver’s life.

Thinking fast

Banton and Martinelli were the two adults who left the bus and ran toward the vehicle. The other two stayed behind to make sure the Scouts were safe. In a stroke of luck, the bus they were on was effectively blocking traffic, giving Banton and Martinelli a clear path to reach the victim without putting themselves in harm’s way.

Banton got there first and saw that the driver was unconscious. Her head was inches away, but behind a closed window and a locked door. There was no way to reach her.

Banton quickly determined he had no choice but to break a window.

A passerby handed him a cane, and he used it to smash the back window. However, with the car still in drive, he was unable to open the rear door, possibly due to child-safety locks. He improvised by running to other side of the car, breaking the passenger-side window, opening that door and reaching across the vehicle to open the driver’s door.

At this point, Martinelli had arrived with the first-aid kit. The vehicle rolled to a stop against the rear bumper of a delivery vehicle, and the two of them shut it off.

It was apparent that the driver was in serious distress. Her breathing was labored. With cars around them honking their horns — likely annoyed at the sudden traffic jam — the adult Scouting volunteers realized the woman was choking on her own bodily fluids.

Lorraine Martinelli tends to the injured driver
Lorraine Martinelli tends to the injured driver. Photo courtesy of Matt Patten

Recovery position

Martinelli and Banton had learned in their training all about recovery position — the proper position for victims who are unconscious but breathing that ensures that any vomit or fluid won’t cause them to choke.

It’s a simple task to roll someone onto their side, but how many of us would be able to think clearly enough to do it amidst all the stress of this situation?

“Putting her in that position helped her drain out her mouth and lungs so she didn’t choke,” says Banton.

As fluids exited her body, the woman remained unconscious but began to breathe normally.

All that was left was to wait on the professional first responders to arrive.

“It’s time to pray,” said Martinelli.

Back on the bus, Conner-Coash continued in the crucial role of ensuring the youth remained safe. Patten relayed updates to the 911 operator.

And Martinelli and Banton said a prayer.

“We had done everything that we could,” Banton says. “We were making sure she was breathing, and her vitals were good.

“We prayed over that woman until the paramedics came.”

Matt Banton and Lorraine Martinelli discuss the situation near an ambulance
Matt Banton and Lorraine Martinelli, shortly after the incident. Photo courtesy of Matt Patten

On to the Jamboree

When it was all over, the adults checked their phones for evidence of how long the entire ordeal had lasted. They estimate it was just 6-7 minutes between the time Patten called 911 and the time the adults’ role in the incident was basically over.

As they left the victim in the care of professionals, the woman’s condition appeared to be improving.

It seems unlikely that she could have survived another couple of minutes alone in her vehicle without the intervention of the Scout leaders.

When it was all over, Patten took the opportunity to talk with the Scouts about the importance of being prepared for a situation like this.

Two days later, the entire group was at the Jamboree, and the Scouts were “having a blast,” Banton says.

“This could have been any helpful group of people,” Martinelli wrote in an email to me from the Jamboree. “On this day, it was us.”

About Aaron Derr 457 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.