Aviation student killed in heroic, selfless act

Editors Note: What follows is a first-hand account of the death of SSgt. Enrico Rojo, which occurred Dec. 19. The account was sent to the editors via email by Mary Jane Medina, the sister of Michelle Medina, Rojo’s fiancee. It is with great honor that The Banner is able to share the story of the heroic actions of Rojo. Original email has been edited for length
and clarity.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to you to share my story about a brave individual that passed away Dec. 19, 2016 at 2 a.m., trying to save the lives of others. I am sharing my story about my (future) brother-in-law, Enrico Antonio Rojo, 29-year-old senior aviation unmanned systems major, staff sergeant, E-6 rank in the U.S. Marine Corps, a veteran.

About 1 a.m. he and his fiancée, Michelle Medina, 34-year-old senior aviation inflight services major, were on their way to Los Angeles International Airport. I was in the back seat with my dad, who came along to help drop them off at the airport and drive their car back home to Palm Springs.

Around the Loma Linda area, we witnessed a car rolling over five to six times on highway 10 right before our eyes — front and center. Enrico told Michelle, who was driving, to pull over.

“There’s people still in that car and they need our help,” Enrico said.

He quickly jumped out of the car, tried to stop oncoming traffic with hand gestures so he could rush to where the car had turned over. A semi-trunk stopped and was parked on the first (slower) lane (starting from the right side of the freeway). Another car stopped in the second lane and another car stopped in the third lane — every car stopped and put their hazards lights on.

I saw Enrico bend down to a crawling position and heard him yell, “Hello? Is everyone all right?”

I was shocked and in disbelief over what I just saw. It felt like a real-life scene from a movie clip. I was shaking as I called 911. While I was on the phone, I heard a loud thud and my sister was screaming, asking where Rico was because we were not able to see him at the crash site near the overturned car. I looked around and could see a body that lay on the freeway cement about a quarter mile in a distance — far, very far. A car had hit him and he flew far, with such great distance.

We ran to Enrico and the 911 dispatcher asked if anyone knew CPR. I told her I did, and she instructed me to start CPR. I felt for his radial pulse; no pulse was felt. I felt for his carotid pulse; no pulse was felt. My hands were cold and I was frustrated that I was not able to feel a pulse, but I thought, “Maybe it is just weak and faint and I cannot feel it because my hands are so cold.”

I quickly put the 911 dispatcher on speaker, laid my phone down on the cold freeway cement next to me and started chest compressions. After 30 compressions I instructed my sister, Michelle, to breathe two breaths as I helped position his head. I was able to do about 90 chest compressions before an officer or sheriff arrived to take over, but it was evident to me that it was too late.

I held my sister tightly and she yelled and cried as she held Rico in her arms. Luckily, during this whole tragedy, there were three gentlemen who parked on the righthand shoulder ahead of us who said they had witnessed the whole thing. They were kind enough to stay through the whole situation and  turned on their flashlights on their phones to wave them back and forth at the oncoming cars, instructing them to stop. They helped protect my sister from cars as she lay in the middle of the freeway holding Rico

Afterward, I asked them if they knew anything about the car that had flipped over. They said they said she was fine.

The purpose of my email was to recognize Enrico Rojo as a true hero. The officers and highway patrol officers referred to him as the “Good Samaritan” since they were not aware of his name yet.

I told them it was Enrico Rojo and that he was just so quick to help. It must have been his military instinct. He was  alert, selfless and brave.

Enrico is a military veteran who also survived an IED explosive and was awarded the Purple Heart medal when he was in the active service.

While attending CBU, he switched over to the reserves, going back to 29 Palms one weekend each month for his Marine duty. He is the oldest of his two other siblings. His sister is also in the military – Marines division, stationed at Camp Pendleton.

I will include a picture of the two of them together. He was enrolled in California Baptist University, majoring in Unmanned Aircraft Systems, trying to obtain his bachelor’s degree and was to graduate in he spring of 2018. He resided in Ontario, Calif.

The CBU Aviation Sciences Department held a celebration of life service for Enrico Jan. 14 in Innovator’s Auditorium. 

About Hannah Tamimi

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