DOVER — Enjoying a “boy’s day” out with his 8-year-old son Owen, Cpl. Christopher Camacho’s Saturday started off calmly enough with a trip to the movie theater and a late lunch. But, it took a serious turn when he came upon a vehicle on its side in a ditch near the Puncheon Run Connector south of Dover.
“It was crazy because I’d just taken Owen to see the new Spider-Man movie and we had this real discussion about doing heroic things,” said Cpl. Camacho — a Vaughn prison correctional officer of 12 years.
“We were driving south on Rt. 13 toward home in Camden when I saw a guy on his phone on the side of the road looking awkward. I looked over more — the ditches over there are kind of deep — and I saw that there was a car completely on its side and there was a little smoke.”
The incident, which took place on July 27, happened moments before when a 58-year-old woman was attempting to turn her Mazda Tribute onto the westbound ramp leading to Puncheon Run, said Delaware State Police. She drove off the roadway, struck a tree and flipped the vehicle onto its left side.
“When I saw that, I pulled over, grabbed my son and we ran over,” said Cpl. Camacho. “I asked the gentleman — he on the phone with 911 — if there was someone still in the car. He said: ‘yeah, I think so.’ And just then, I could hear a woman screaming; ‘I’m in here, I’m trapped.’ So we ran over.”
His stomach dropped as he approached the vehicle to see a baby seat in the car, he said.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know if I’m prepared to see this,’” said Cpl. Camacho. “But luckily, when I got up to the car, the woman said it was just her in the car and she really didn’t look as bad as I had expected — she was bleeding some though.”
He soon began to worry that the wrecked vehicle might catch fire, he said.
“I started to try to open the doors — it’s surprising how heavy they are when the car is on its side like that,” Cpl. Camacho said. “As I was prying it open, another younger guy ran over to help out too.
“We just knew we had to get her out of the car because the undercarriage was smoldering hot, and I was hearing things start to crackle. I don’t really know much about cars, but I’m pretty sure if something caught fire it would be a huge problem.”
Juggling his concern for the woman’s safety and his own, he was also worried about his son, said Cpl. Camacho.
“I didn’t know what would happen,” he said. “I was pulling a bloody woman out of a car in front of my son and he hasn’t seen anything ‘real’ like that before. But, it was kind of a chance to teach him, too.
“I think we’re put on this earth to not only be decent human beings, but to actually try to help others when they’re in need. I have a daughter, a sister and a mother too — I’d want someone to help my family member too in that situation.”
Cpl. Camacho said he and the other bystander carefully removed the woman from the vehicle — lifting precariously in case of neck injuries. Luckily, by the time they’d removed her, the state police and emergency responders arrived on the scene, he said.
According to the state police, the woman was not injured as a result of the crash, but was transported to Kent General Hospital as a precaution. Ultimately the driver was cited for failing to drive at speed appropriate for conditions.
The Delaware Department of Correction lauded Cpl. Camacho’s actions as “selfless and courageous.”
“Outstanding job by Cpl. Camacho and true reflection and embodiment of our core values!” reads a statement from the agency.
On Thursday, Cpl. Camacho was given a tribute recognizing his efforts by Governor John Carney at a bill signing in Dover.
“We commend Cpl. Camacho for his service to the community and applaud his courageousness,” reads the tribute.
For his part, Cpl. Camacho was pleased that he was able to help and that the woman was unharmed.
“They tell us in the department to do our best to represent ourselves well outside work and I really try hard to do that,” he said.
“I also do some professional wrestling on the side, and it’s the same thing — it’s important to represent yourself and the things you do well in the community. I’ve always prided myself on that.”
Most of all, he hopes he set a good example for his son — like the one set for him by his father.
“When my dad retired from the state police he was a resource officer Postlethwait Middle School for a few years and he actually had a chance to save a little girl’s life himself,” said Cpl. Camacho. “So maybe it’s a family thing. God has a funny way of just putting us where we’re needed sometimes I guess.”
Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or firstname.lastname@example.org