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March 22. 2014 7:33PM

Man seeks soldiers who saved him and children on I-93 in Bedford


David Sullivan is trying to find the two National Guard soldiers who saved his life by freeing him from his burning vehicle after a crash on Interstate 93 in Bedford. 

Who were those National Guardsmen?

David Sullivan doesn't know, but he wants to thank them.

Sullivan was driving home to Massachusetts from the family's weekend home in Lincoln on March 9 with three of his own kids in the car and three of their friends.

Sullivan, 52, has no memory of what happened next. But state police say just before 6 p.m., his Chevrolet Suburban crashed into the concrete divider at the Bedford toll plaza on the Everett Turnpike, rolled over and caught fire.

Police said Good Samaritans pulled all seven people out of the SUV and extinguished the flames before emergency responders arrived.

Chris Cronen is on temporary assignment as New England deputy field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was out for a Sunday drive that day.

According to a press release from ICE, Cronen was one of the first to come upon the crash scene and "immediately sprang into action." He's a former Navy Corpsman and trained as a tactical medic for ICE.

Cronen and others, including two men in military uniforms, began pulling the children out of the wrecked vehicle, which had come to rest on its passenger side.

Then someone yelled, "The car is on fire!"

Cronen directed bystanders to find fire extinguishers and began trying to peel back the shattered windshield with his bare hands to reach Sullivan, who was strapped in his seat, unconscious and bleeding.

When that didn't work, Cronen ripped the sun roof from the vehicle, crawled inside and managed to release the seatbelt. "The driver fell into my arms and I was able to pull him out to a safe distance," with help from the other rescuers, Cronen said in an email.

By that time, a third man in a military uniform was helping. They began assessing the injured man's medical condition as the first ambulance arrived.

With state police and ambulance crews taking over, Cronen gave his business card to a trooper, took some photos of the scene "for an after-action report," and left. When he got to his hotel, he wrote, "I noticed that I had glass fragments in my left hand and started to feel pronounced pain in my right shoulder."

He went to a hospital for treatment.

Cronen's actions that day have earned him praise from his colleagues and even a congratulatory phone call from the Secretary of Homeland Security.

But what he really wants is to make sure the three military men and the other bystanders who helped rescue Sullivan and the six children share the credit. "This was a team effort. I could not have done it alone," he said in his email.

Cronen said he believes the men were wearing Air Force camouflage, but he can't be certain.

Daniel Modricker, public affairs officer for ICE in New England, called Cronen "an amazingly modest person."

"He wants to make sure they're getting recognized for what they did," he said.

Sullivan, too, would like to find the men who helped his family that evening. He said his kids think it was "Navy Seals" who saved them.

It's more likely they were airmen or soldiers from the New Hampshire National Guard.

Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, state public affairs officer for the Guard, said finding out the men's identities is complicated by the fact that that was a drill weekend for the Guard. "So they could have been heading to any number of armories," he said.

They could have been going to Pease Air National Guard Base, the Army National Guard armory in Manchester, Londonderry Reserve Center or even Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Heilshorn said.

Sullivan said he hopes to meet Cronen and the others who saved them that day. "What I'd like to say to them all is . I would like to give you all a big hug and thank you very much for being there and helping me and, more importantly, all the young kids in the car."

"Whoever hasn't come out, don't be shy," he said. "You were true heroes."Sullivan suffered a concussion and two fractured vertebrae in the crash; he spent a night in Elliot Hospital. He's also been undergoing tests to see if some sort of medical episode made him black out and crash the SUV.Police charged Sullivan with reckless driving and he has to appear in court April 10 in Merrimack.

The last thing Sullivan remembers before the crash was stopping at a McDonald's in Lincoln. His next memory is of the emergency responders cutting off his clothing.

None of the six children in the vehicle, ages 10 to 16, had even a scratch.

And Sullivan said that's all that matters.

"We've told the kids God obviously was looking after us that day and he'll look after you the rest of your life. And just be thankful."

If anyone knows the identities of those who helped at the crash scene on March 9, call the NHNG public affairs office at 227-1468.


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