1AF member rescues mother, three children after SUV tumbles on bridge

  • Published
  • By MIchael C. Dougherty

When Capt. Bryon Adams, Jr. left for work one Thursday morning, the last thing on his mind was to be prepared to crawl into an upside-down SUV full of broken glass to rescue a mother, a baby, and two toddlers hanging upside-down by their straps and seat belts. 

That, however, failed to slow his response in the immediate aftermath of a spectacular auto accident atop the DuPont Bridge some 50 feet over St. Andrew’s Bay on April 25, 2024. 

Adams is a Sioux City, Iowa native and 25-year veteran of the Air Force. His first 17 years were spent as a maintainer on F-16’s and KC-135’s. He now serves as the operations division chief for the Intelligence division (A2) for the Continental U.S. NORAD Region – First Air Force (Air Forces Northern and Air Forces Space). 

Last month he was on his way to work, cresting the DuPont Bridge and approaching Tyndall’s gates where traffic in the right lane had slowed to a crawl. He noticed a large SUV in his rear-view mirror make a sudden lurch to the right to merge into the mile-long queue. The driver evidently did not see a dump truck in the vehicle’s blind spot, he said, and the two collided almost immediately.  

The dump truck hit the SUV, which then crashed head-on into the bridge’s guardrail. Now sideways in the street and in the path of the dump truck, it was struck for a third time – this time squarely. “The dump truck pushed it sideways down the bridge. Next, it rolled – four times I believe – and I’ll never forget the sound of the impact and shattering glass. I directed another motorist to call 911,” said Adams. After a loud, brutal, and seemingly catastrophic tumble down the bridge, the SUV came to a rest on its roof, spinning slowly. 

Adams wasted no time in responding. When he reached the vehicle, he conducted a split-second assessment and responded immediately.

“The back window was busted out. There was broken glass all over the (headliner). I crawled in, over the glass, and saw two kids. First, there was a little boy, around six-years-old in the back row, hanging upside down, suspended by his car seat’s belts.” Adams accounted that the boy was uninjured, except for cuts on his hands where he had touched the broken glass on the ceiling while attempting to brace himself. As he pulled him out of the vehicle and took him to the curb and to safety, the boy said, “I thought we were going to go in the water.” The boy’s fears were not unfounded -- as the police report indicated “structural damage to the railing of the bridge.”

The guardrail held and prevented the SUV and its occupants from experiencing a five-story drop into the water below. 

Re-entering the overturned SUV, he spotted a girl of “around four or five,” and an infant, both hanging from their car seats. By this time, other bystanders had arrived to assist, and one of them managed to open the passenger door, he said. “When I got the girl free of her seat she ran towards the front seats, inside of the vehicle near her mom. I asked her if it would be ok if I could have her go outside with her brother so I could help her baby brother and her mom. I then handed her to another motorist through the open door.”

Next, Adams removed the infant, bringing all three siblings safely together. 

Finally, Adams approached the mother, who was hanging upside down in the driver’s seat, speaking with an emergency operator through the SUV’s on-board response system. He coached and supported her as she braced herself on the ceiling while he released her seat belt and lowered her down and out of the vehicle. 

With the family safely extracted and reunited on the roadside, he looked in the vehicle for “any stuffed animals or toys” he could give to the kids, found one, and gave it to one of the children, he said. 

Miraculously, no one was seriously injured, Adams said. “The airbags, seat belts and car seats all functioned effectively.” Adams credits the vehicle and its safety systems for minimizing the impact, while downplaying his part as first responder, and denying the role of any superior training or skillset he may have. “It’s just something that any of us would have done in that situation. I just happened to be there for them, at that place, at that time.” 

Adams’ modesty notwithstanding, many members of his command have drawn inspiration from his selfless actions and expressed pride in his brave actions that morning. “Capt. Adams remains a shining example of courage and compassion, reminding us all of the everyday heroes among us who rise to the occasion in moments of crisis,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Nordhaus, commander, 1st Air Force. “As we continue to take care of the mission, taking care of ourselves and one another is equally important – whether through potentially life-saving actions like this, or in just looking out and being ready to lend a hand when it’s needed most.”