It was 10:30 p.m. on June 29, 2012, the night of the powerful derecho storm that swept through Bethesda, causing downed trees and massive power outages. Bethesda resident Susan Riley was driving home from the bank.
If not for county employee Walter Lopez, Riley likely wouldn’t have survived what happened next.
A large tree crashed down on Riley’s car, traveling on Old Georgetown Road just south of Democracy Boulevard. The tree crushed the roof of her Toyota and caused a large gash in her head. She was trapped.
Lopez was on call for Montgomery County’s Department of General Services, on his way to the 2nd District Police Station. He noticed a large tree and debris in the roadway. He got out of his truck. He found the crushed car and faint cries of “Help me, help me,” from inside.
Lopez pulled away the branches and began knocking on the car windows. Riley was bleeding profusely. Her skull was exposed but she could not lift her head. Lopez, in an act County Executive Isiah Leggett recognized on Tuesday, pulled Riley out of the car through the passenger side window.
He applied towels to her head to slow the bleeding, “just like he had seen on TV.”
Lopez found a combination of back roads to get Riley to nearby Suburban Hospital because of debris on Old Georgetown and carried her into the emergency room.
He left his contact info, but it got misplaced. Riley, after 40 surgical staples closed her wound, went on TV to try to find the man in the pick-up truck who saved her life. The two have since been able to reunite.
Leggett and Councilmember Phil Andrews honored Lopez and four other good samaritans who helped save the lives of other citizens.
Two were Uniformed Services University students who happened to be the Gaithersburg Sam’s Club in July, when a vehicle crashed through the front of the store, hitting two men in the food court. The students stopped bleeding in the man’s leg and stabilized him until paramedics could arrive.
“It is because of people like them that our County is such a great place to live,” Leggett said. “The individuals we are recognizing today deserve our praise and admiration for coming to the rescue, in one case of elderly neighbors, and in the other cases, a total stranger. Montgomery County is truly fortunate to have such heroes in our community.”