EXCLUSIVE: Iraq Vet Discusses Spring Break Attack

For these guys to do that, it's horrible. It's something you don't want to see," said Fabian Ortega

A veteran who just returned from Iraq said his Army instincts kicked in when he pulled a man he had never met away from a brutal attack on South Padre Island during spring break.

Twenty-one-year-old Derek Madrigal, a Brookhaven College student from Dallas, is fighting for his life after he was beaten and stabbed in an attack that was caught on a cellphone video.

In an exclusive interview with NBC 5, Fabian Ortega said he knew Madrigal was in trouble when the crowd swarmed him.

"We were having a good time, and then we see this bloody figure making his way toward our section of the beach, and he was followed by this mob of people," he said.

Ortega, who had just returned from Iraq, was celebrating spring break with friends. He said the entire incident happened in the blink of an eye.

"He was crawling toward us, and they were beating him with ice chests and whatever else was around. This is when we realized this guy is in trouble," he said. "It happened so fast and, you know, your senses sort of stop working. You sort of just want to get that guy out. You see a guy, you know, defenseless, and you just want to help him."

The video shows Ortega moving in, grabbing Madrigal underneath both arms and dragging him away from the crows. By that time, Madrigal had already been stabbed nine times.

"At that point, he wasn't responsive to us. We were asking, 'Hey are you OK? Are you OK?' And he was unresponsive, and it was really scary," Ortega said.

Madrigal's friends said they got separated from him. They said he was defending a girl's honor when he was attacked.

Ortega and his friend dragged Madrigal to a nearby medic tent. From there, Madrigal was airlifted to a hospital in Harlingen.

"I don't know who he is," Ortega said. "I just know that, from what I understand, he was sort of trying to defend someone else, and that speaks to his character, so I feel that maybe in the same situation, he'd do the same for me."

Madrigal has undergone two surgeries since Saturday and is recovering from a punctured lung. He is expected to survive.

"You know, everyone is there to have a good time," Ortega said. "You want to go to South Padre or anywhere for spring break and just relax, have a good time, you know. For these guys to do that, it's horrible. It's something you don't want to see."

Police have arrested one person in the case, a 33-year-old man from San Antonio.

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