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NEWS | Aug. 26, 2021

Nashville Navy Reserve Sailor Rescues Six from Car Crash

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sarah Horne

TULLAHOMA, Tenn. – Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Lovitt, assigned to Naval Operational Support Center Nashville, and his family were driving southbound on Interstate 59 toward one of their favorite vacation spots at Blue Mountain Beach, Florida. They had left their home ten minutes later than intended and felt rushed for time, so they didn’t mind the quiet road that morning.

It was nearly 10 a.m. as they crossed the state line from Georgia into Alabama, about 30 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Suddenly, a minivan swerved into the left lane, nearly barreling off the road on the left before overcompensating back toward the center of the highway. It flipped and rolled across both lanes and down into the ditch along the right-hand side.

Lovitt carefully pulled to the side of the highway in front of the now upside-down vehicle and slammed his gearshift into park.

“In this case there wasn’t any thinking,” Lovitt said as he recalled the event. “I never sat for a minute to decide if I needed to get out or not. It was gonna happen.”

Lovett’ wife of twenty years reached back toward their three children and said, “We all need to pray; let’s pray.”

Lovitt recounted saying, “Y’all pray. I’m going to help.”

But the whole family piled out of the car to support Lovitt’s efforts to get the crash victims safely out of the smoking van.

Lovitt quickly scaled down the embankment to the second-row passenger-side door, which he was able to open despite some resistance from the damaged frame.

“The car was upside down, and three of the passengers were hanging from their seatbelts,” he said, describing what he saw when he first opened the door. “I had to lift two of them and unbuckle their seatbelts, but the two others were no problem. The driver was no problem. I was able to just pull her right through the opening, and the same for the others. There were really just two difficult ones.”

A man in his seventies was in the front passenger seat, struggling but unable to unbuckle his seatbelt. As Lovitt helped to free the elderly man, an off-duty firefighter pulled over as well. The firefighter quickly began spraying the smoking vehicle with a fire extinguisher and gave Lovitt a knife to cut the elderly man’s seatbelt away. The firefighter then broke the driver’s side window to provide a better escape route. Lovitt held up the driver’s side airbag to protect himself and the passenger from shards of glass raining down. Then, with the help of the firefighter, Lovitt used the same airbag as a mat, providing a protective surface for the man to crawl up and out of the vehicle.

Then came the most challenging part: freeing the fifth passenger, a sixteen-year-old girl who was screaming in horrible pain. Her foot had become trapped between the smashed frame of the van and the seat in front of her. Lovitt said it took approximately ten agonizing minutes to free her foot from its awful position.

“Every time I would move it a little bit, she would scream in my ear,” said Lovitt. “Then I would move it a little bit more and she’d scream again.”

Lovitt, who has a fifteen-year-old son, said he felt horribly that the girl was in pain, but he had to free her as fast as possible in case the vehicle ignited. Once the girl’s foot was free, she was unable to use her leg. Lovitt had her hold onto his neck as he crawled backwards out of the vehicle dragging her along with him. He and the firefighter carried her up the hill to the rest of her family.

Lovitt described that the accident occurred in a remote location away from populated communities.

“It took almost 45 minutes for the ambulance service to get there,” Lovitt said. “When you just pass into Alabama right there, you’re in a pretty rural area. You’re ten to fifteen miles away from the two next towns in either direction.”

While waiting for the ambulance, Lovitt went back down to the crashed vehicle to search for supplies and gather the families’ belongings.

“They had a twelve-pack of water in the car, so I brought that up there and handed them all water,” he said. “Some of them didn’t have their shoes on. They were wearing flip-flops before the crash and didn’t know where they had gone. When they walked up to the road, they had glass and dirt and road rash on their feet. I used my hands, and I cleaned this lady’s feet, found her flip-flops [and gave them to her].”

The only passenger who was uninjured, Lovitt said, was the driver, a woman in her seventies. She was frantically walking between her family members, checking on them.

“She felt horrible so I talked to her for a little bit,” Lovitt said. “She didn’t have a whole lot to say until I said, ‘We’re all thankful that nobody is seriously hurt.’ To that she said, ‘Thank you Jesus. Praise Jesus,’ so I thought, ‘Okay, so she’s a prayerful person.’ She and I said a quick prayer together, just thanking Jesus that he was able to keep that car frame intact and that those airbags worked, that they were wearing their seatbelts, and all six of them were going to survive.”

After seeing the family into the safe hands of first responders, Lovitt said his good-byes to the woman and her family.

“I hugged her —I think I hugged everybody,” he said with a laugh. “I even hugged some of the other people that stopped. It just felt so good to be able to make somebody’s day better like that. It made us an hour late to our vacation, but it’s so much more than that. I just felt so good that I was able to be there and that we hadn’t left on time.”

Lovitt and his family continued their trip down the road half an hour later. The adrenaline left him shaken, so he pulled over briefly in the Alabama Welcome Center to clean up a bit before resuming the journey south. When he evaluated himself, he had glass in his forearms, his knees, his shins, in his hair, and all over his shirt. He described that his wife pointed out when he got back to the car that he had actually been wearing his shirt inside out the whole time.

“I’m trying to imagine what I would think if I saw someone in there that looked like me doing what I was doing,” Lovitt said, laughing. “I looked like garbage standing there at that sink trying to get cleaned up.”

Ultimately, Lovitt said he was simply grateful to have been of assistance to a family in a difficult circumstance.