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‘Never been so impressed,’ Marine from Virginia saves couple after fiery crash on I-95

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CAMP LEJEUNE, Nc. -- A Marine traveling from the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina to Caroline County, Va. found himself right in the middle of a fiery four-vehicle collision on Interstate 95 on Nov. 25.

Sgt. Ian Rivera was on his way to spend Thanksgiving with his family when he found himself rescuing a couple from a burning vehicle.

The Virginia Beach native was about three hours into his drive, just south of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. when the fiery accident happened, striking a couple in a Mazda 3 the hardest.

“I was about two cars behind,” said Rivera. “I jumped out onto the shoulder of the left side of the road and ran to them. “I wanted to make sure they were okay.”

When the intelligence analyst with Headquarters and Service Company, 2/8, got to the driver side door he realized smoke was rapidly emerging from what remained of the vehicle’s engine. Rivera quickly mobilized bystanders; several of them other active duty military members help the woman in the driver’s seat.

The driver was incoherent at first after the impact of the crash and a deployed air bag. She was eventually able to reveal that her husband, Army Capt. Ben Sylvester, was immobilized in the backseat.

Sylvester was helpless due to a hip-to-ankle brace on his right leg. He had just undergone knee reconstruction surgery two weeks prior after an injury sustained during an Airborne jump.

“Pinned on the floor of a wrecked car ... as smoke and flames visible through the windshield started billowing, was a feeling I’ve never experienced before, and hope never to see again,” Sylvester wrote in an official statement.

Sgt. Ian Rivera, an intelligence analyst with Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, is responsible for the rescue of two people, including an Army captain, during a vehicular accident that occurred on Interstate 95, Nov. 25, 2015. Rivera is a native of Virginia Beach, Va.

Sgt. Ian Rivera, an intelligence analyst with Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, is responsible for the rescue of two people, including an Army captain, during a vehicular accident that occurred on Interstate 95, Nov. 25, 2015. Rivera is a native of Virginia Beach, Va.

Rivera and the other bystanders helped drag Sylvester out of the car that was still in the middle of I-95.

Rivera then grabbed a water bottle from his vehicle to pour onto the now burning engine.

A second fire broke out a short time later, but Rivera was able to extinguish it after a bystander got a fire extinguisher.

Once Sylvester and his wife were evacuated from the car, Rivera again directed the bystanders to push the wrecked car over to the emergency lane of the highway.

Rivera’s peers praised his actions and regarded his actions as what would be expected of a Marine of his caliber.

“Sgt. Rivera has always been level-headed,” said Cpl. Nicholas Veasey, an intelligence analyst with Rivera. “The junior Marines under him can always learn from his mentorship.”

Sgt. Ian Rivera

Sgt. Ian Rivera

Rivera said he just did  what he was supposed to do in the situation.  “It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” Rivera said. “It’s what I was supposed to do.”

Rivera talked to the couple and stayed by their side until police and paramedics arrived on scene approximately 30 minutes later. All others involved in the crash were found to be in safe condition.

Upon his return to base the following Monday, his command recognized him for his heroic actions, with some Marines even nick-naming him “The Hero of 95.”

Sylvester and his wife expressed their appreciation to Rivera as well, acknowledging that he was instrumental in saving them from danger after the crash.

“I can honestly say I have never been so impressed with a noncommissioned officer's conduct as I was with Sgt. Rivera that day,” Sylvester wrote. “Through his actions, he literally saved the day. My wife and I are eternally grateful.”

Rivera regarded his own actions as what anyone would do, and felt relieved that through fast thinking and acting, everyone involved made it away safe.