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Citadel student pulls two people from burning van

Christopher Woods’ quick action earns college’s Medal of Valor

Posted Wednesday, August 2, 2017 2:54 pm


JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Christopher Woods, a cadet at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., was driving home March 2, looking forward to a home-cooked meal and his sister’s soccer game.

The rising senior had not gotten as far as Columbia, S.C., on I-26 when he came upon a serious accident that involved a van and the overturned Airstream trailer it was pulling in the highway.

Woods, 21, pulled over his truck and quickly got out. He could see an elderly man in the driver’s seat and a woman behind him. The next thing Woods saw was flames flickering up from the side of the van.

According to published reports, Woods, also an Eagle Scout, decided it was time to get those people out of the van. He had grabbed his emergency kit and used the heel of his knife to smash open the van’s rear window.

Luggage and items blocked that entry so he climbed up the van’s side now facing skyward and knocked out the backseat window to get in.

He was able to lift up an elderly woman to bystanders who took her away from the van.

The driver of the van was a tougher problem. He was bigger and wedged in. But other bystanders, including an off-duty firefighter, were now able to help pull him out of the now burning van.

It wasn’t a moment too soon. Laying down the elderly driver, Woods said he looked back to see black smoke coming out of the window they just exited.

Fire units arrived shortly after to find the van completely engulfed. The fire was quickly extinguished, but it was clear that the couple in the van would not have made it without Wood’s prompt action.

A letter from one of the bystanders to the president of The Citadel described the scene of the accident as one where people had stopped but were standing around shocked and unsure what to do as the flames began to spread.

“This young man immediately began to call out instructions for us to do instead of just standing there … without any regard for his own safety or life, this man climbed up on top of the van … and began to break his way in the van. He was able to pull one of the doors open because of the rollover.

“As flames began to spread throughout the van, this young man pulled the elderly female out of the van before returning to save the gentleman.”

Later, the bystander asked Woods if he realized the magnitude of what he had done?

“I was just doing my job. My family, job and school all have taught me to do the right thing and to do what you would want others to do for yourself in the same situation,” the bystander related.

The two victims were not seriously hurt. People noticed Woods’ Citadel sticker and got his name. They helped the couple track him down to send a letter of thanks and a check. He returned the check.

But Citadel officials learned of the affair and arranged something he could not return.

At the Citadel’s Awards Convocation May 4, more than 50 awards were presented to cadets in recognition of their outstanding accomplishments.

Perhaps none was more poignant than when Citadel President Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa presented Cadet Woods with college’s Medal of Valor awarded when a cadet distinguishes oneself by acts of heroism.

According to the citation’s requirements for receiving that honor, “The act must result in an exceptional and outstanding accomplishment that involved acceptance of danger or extraordinary responsibilities.”

Woods’ calm and almost methodical actions during the moments of stress and danger will serve him well when he enters the Navy for a career in naval aviation.

This is not the first time Woods’ deeds and quick action have been noted in the Herald’s pages.

When he was a student at Johns Creek High School he was one of four teenagers hailed for “quick action” after a varsity football game in Forsyth. They witnessed a crash and assisted both injured drivers.

Commended for their prompt actions, Woods emailed the Forsyth Fire Chief. In it he wrote that they were inspired by their JCHS Principal Buck Greene who told them, “Johns Creek will be known through the students’ actions.”

Now The Citadel will be known as well.

– Compiled from reports Hatcher Hurd

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