By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photo by Eric Owens, CDCR staff photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
What should have been a normal commute home for San Quentin Correctional Officer Joel Herrera rapidly turned into a life-and-death situation for a young boy.
At about 4 p.m. on Jan. 13, Officer Herrera was on his way home when he came across the scene of an accident. The officer has worked almost 10 years at the prison.
A young boy had been struck by a vehicle and was lying unconscious on the ground. Pulling his car to the side of the road, Officer Herrera rushed to the boy to offer assistance. Emergency personnel had not yet arrived.
“It looked like he was crossing the road when he got hit,” he said. “I stopped just to see if I could help. I had prior medical training in my last career as an EMT firefighter. Bystanders were just watching. They didn’t know what to do. I showed up and identified myself.”
He said he checked the child’s breathing since he appeared to be struggling for air.
“Due to my training, you always check the breathing. I checked his mouth and didn’t see any obstructions,” said Officer Herrera. “I could still hear a gurgling sound so I started looking and when I removed (some of) his clothing, that’s when I saw the (breathing) tube.”
Because it was cold, the child was wearing many layers of clothing which appeared to be cutting off his airflow.
A bystander, who identified herself as the victim’s caregiver, said the young boy was hearing impaired.
“He also had a feeding tube in his stomach and he had no ears,” said Officer Herrera. “He wasn’t able to communicate with me when I arrived.”
Cars whizzed by on the two-lane road or drivers slowed to catch a glimpse of the scene. The posted speed limit is 55 miles per hour.
“There were other vehicles stopping but just to look. No one else was assisting,” he said.
About this time a Vacaville city police officer arrived and Officer Herrera asked him for a cutting tool. The police officer handed him a pocket knife.
With the knife in hand, the correctional officer quickly cut away the boy’s clothes, freeing his breathing tube. While waiting for the ambulance, Officer Herrera stayed with the boy, ensuring he didn’t go into shock.
“He was conscious and breathing (when the ambulance arrived),” he said. “There was a filter we were able to put back on his breathing tube.”
He said his CDCR training, coupled with his EMT background, allowed him to do what needed to be done to save the boy.
“My training helped out. Both Vacaville PD and the Fire Department thanked me saying it might have been a different outcome had I not been there,” Officer Herrera said.
The officer regrets one thing about the incident.
“I wish I had gotten their contact information. I’d like to know how he’s doing,” he said.