The explosion-like sound came from their right, maybe 20 feet away. It was a car plowing into the store and slamming into two shoppers. The medical students, wearing military uniforms, ran over to help.
What happened over the next five minutes may well have saved the life of 76-year-old Dimas M. Chavez after a Montgomery County crash that authorities continue to investigate. Chavez, who lost part of his right leg in the collision, remained hospitalized Wednesday in serious condition, upgraded from critical, at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
The crash investigators, meanwhile, were still trying to determine why the driver, Subinoy Mazumdar, 77, lost control of his 2002 Buick LeSabre and went through a service door, part of a wall and into a food court area. The investigators, part of the department’s Collision Reconstruction Unit, have talked to at least one witness who heard what sounded like an engine accelerating before the crash. The investigators also are looking at surveillance video from inside and outside the store. No charges have been filed in the case.
A big part of what happened Tuesday involved Hunt, 25, a Navy ensign, and Weymouth, 23, an Army second lieutenant. (Weymouth is the half brother of Katharine Weymouth, publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post.)
Both recently completed their first year of medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, which trains members of the U.S. military. Students at the school receive trauma training to prepare them for what they could later encounter on a battlefield. Hunt and Weymouth were no different, learning in their first year how to use a tourniquet, for example.
The two recently began taking the wound-care class and had come to the point where students were to receive training on cleaning dirt and debris out of trauma wounds. As it turns out, by slicing open a hot dog and smushing dirt into it, students get a good simulation of human flesh. They learn how to use syringes to flush out the dirt. So on Tuesday, a food run was called for.
Hunt and Weymouth were tasked with driving to Gaithersburg and buying 80 Ball Park Franks. Immediately after hearing the boom, they ran over and saw that two men had been hit by the car.
They asked the younger man how he was doing. He didn’t say anything, possibly because he was in shock, and pointed to his chest. Hunt and Weymouth looked him over briefly and determined that he would be all right until paramedics arrived.
They turned their full attention to the older victim, Chavez. The part of his right leg near his knee was barely hanging on. Blood was coming out of a severed femoral artery. Hunt and Weymouth took off their belts, tightening them around the man’s thigh. But they couldn’t stop the bleeding.
“Give me your belts,” Weymouth said to several shoppers nearby.
Weymouth and Hunt tightened three more belts around Chavez’s thigh. The bleeding stopped. Weymouth spoke to Chavez in Spanish.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said. “We’re medics. We’re medics.”
Chavez didn’t say much in response. Weymouth and Hunt thought he was probably in shock.
Police officers and paramedics arrived several minutes later, and soon as many as 10 people were working on Chavez. The crew applied two standard medical tourniquets to Chavez’s thigh. He was eventually flown by helicopter to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.
The other man hit inside the store received what police described as injuries not considered life-threatening and was taken to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. A woman who was outside the store and pushed her small kids out of the way of the car just before it went into Sam’s was struck and received minor injuries. The Buick driver, Mazumdar, was not injured.
The military medical students, Hunt and Weymouth, said they do not know whether their efforts kept Chavez from bleeding to death. They estimated that he lost at least a liter of blood before they stopped the flow, about five minutes before county paramedics arrived.
“We were trained for this situation,” Hunt said.