A MedStar paramedic who was heading to work Thursday to begin his shift became a victim of the massive crash on Interstate 35W and despite his own injuries switched into “rescue mode” before his fellow first responders realized he wasn’t on duty and needed help himself.
Trey McDaniel said he was already wearing his medic uniform heading south on the highway when he noticed cars crashing on black ice in front of him.
Six people were killed and dozens injured in the pileup that involved more than 100 vehicles.
"Right when I saw it, I mean I put my foot on the brake,” he remembered.
He said there was no way to stop. He slid on the ice and crashed.
But for McDaniel, the worst was yet to come.
“I happen to look up in my rearview mirror and I'm watching a semi-truck barreling towards me full speed,” he said. “It looked like it was trying to stop. There were sparks flying. But it was full speed. I thought it was my time at that point. I just kind of braced for impact."
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His car, a 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser, actually went airborne and landed on the opposite side of the express lanes, he said.
McDaniel’s face, ankle, back and shoulders, were all banged up.
"I'm feeling it today,” he said in an interview Friday.
He crawled out of the wreckage and soon was met by arriving firefighters who assumed he was there working.
"They figured I was there as part of that ambulance crew that had just rolled in. They had no idea,” he said. “And, you know, my first thought was I'm walking, I'm ambulatory. What do I need to do?"
The firefighters asked him for help treating victims.
Without saying a thing, McDaniels switched from victim to medic.
He remembers helping load at least two patients onto backboards and searching for others.
"I checked on a couple other vehicles,” he said. “This was while I was trying to get my bearings. I mean everything was dizzy and fuzzy and all this. I wanted to make sure everybody else was OK. I definitely went into rescue mode. That's all I really know how to do."
Only later did his fellow first responders realize the situation.
"They saw me in uniform and their first reaction was, ‘Wait a second, wait, you were a part of it? You were in it?’ They were in disbelief,” he said.
McDaniels soon was on the way to the hospital where he was treated and released. He won't be able to return to work for at least several more days and has more doctor’s appointments.
He was humble about what he did at the crash scene.
"You do this day after day, it's ingrained in your head to help people right off the bat without thinking,” he said. “That's kind of what I did, in the moment."
A lot of people would call him a hero.
“Thank you. I appreciate that. I'll take it,” McDaniels said. “But I just do what everyone else in my field does. We're all heroes."
But few can say they are both a victim and a hero at the same time.