Los Lunas vet speaks out about parade accident

Posted at: 11/19/2012 10:39 PM
By: Maria Guererro, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Richard Sanchez
Photo: Richard Sanchez

A Los Lunas soldier survived three tours of duty overseas, only to be critically injured in a parade of all things.

He was on a float that was hit by a train last week in Midland, Texas.

The local soldier did something amazing right before the train struck, that likely saved a life.

Richard Sanchez is still in the hospital in Midland. He had planned to bring his wife and three kids to Albuquerque for Thanksgiving.

That’s not happening, but his sister is incredibly thankful to still have him.

Valerie Sanchez spent time Monday evening flipping through a photo album full of pictures of her older brother, Richard. She grew up watching him excel at many things, from wrestling to football.

The two grew up in Los Lunas. Then, in Sanchez family tradition, Richard went off to be a soldier. Richard is stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Army Sergeant First Class would serve three tours of duty: one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. In May, Richard was shot twice in Afghanistan. He lost use of his right arm. The 31-year-old returned home to more devastating news.

"He lost one of his really close friends (in Afghanistan) and he was still trying to grieve and get through that loss when my mother passed away as well," said Valerie.

That was just six weeks ago. Richard and his wife, Heather, traveled to Midland to be part of a celebration for wounded warriors. The events included a banquet, parade and hunt. But tragedy would strike again. this time at the parade.

A freight train plowed into the float carrying Richard and about two dozen other soldiers and their wives. Four Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans died. Richard and 16 others were taken to the hospital.

"I don't know what I'd do if I lost my brother too," said Valerie.

Richard survived but has a broken back and may be paralyzed. Richard appeared on the Today Show on Monday morning and described what he remembers.

"It all kind of happens at once,” said Richard to Matt Lauer. “There's not really any delay of time. But I remember it all from the first time I heard somebody yelling train and the arm coming down on my wife and I."

In a move that doesn’t surprise Valerie, Richard and other vets pushed their wives to safety before the train struck.

"It sounded just like him,” she said. “He would think of everyone else but himself."

And Valerie Sanchez knows her big brother’s strength goes well beyond the front lines.

"He's brave and that once he sets his mind to something he can overcome it," she said.

When asked if she sees him walking again.

Valerie quickly responds: “Yes, I do.”

A recovery fund has been set up for Richard Sanchez.

You can go to any Wells Fargo locations in the nation and make a donation under:

Valerie Sanchez of Richard Sanchez Recovery Fund