"There was nothing different about that day; it was a typical day of just traveling between my projects," Shaun Bass recalled.
Bass, a USACE Construction Control Inspector born and raised in Doniphan, Missouri, has been with the Memphis District since 2020.
Traveling the routes to and from project sites usually involves little excitement; that was up until July 26, 2022. That afternoon, he felt he had no choice but to do the right thing, no matter how challenging it would be.
"I was traveling through Risco, Missouri, about a half a mile behind the vehicle in front of me, when all of a sudden, instead of seeing the car I saw a cloud of dust," Bass said. "I first thought they ran off the road, but as I got closer, I realized it had hit the bridge rail head-on (the bridge rail turned out to be a concrete barrier curb)."
As though on autopilot, Bass turned on his flashers, threw on his orange vest, and called 911 as he sprinted toward the totaled vehicle. Once closer to the Jeep, he saw a middle-aged woman falling out of the driver's side door and onto the pavement, screaming in pain.
"I felt so sorry for her – her right foot/shin looked shattered – it was in bad shape, and on top of that, she was lying on the hot asphalt road," Bass remembered. "I was about to get her off the hot road and onto the grass, but luckily an ambulance stopped as they just happened to be driving through the area."
Bass said he started to help the woman into the ambulance, feeling a sense of relief that the incident was almost over. However, the mother was about to reveal additional information that would change everything.
"The lady started asking about her girls in the vehicle," he remembers. "So I looked in and saw two young girls laying on the front console of the vehicle, screaming."
Just as Bass told the paramedics about the two additional girls, the mother started yelling again, saying it wasn't two but three girls who needed help. And right as they found out about the third girl, the situation intensified yet again, only this time it was because a fire ignited under the vehicle's motor.
Wasting no time, Bass quickly ran to his truck to grab a fire extinguisher. By the time he'd returned, a paramedic had extinguished the fire, so he left his next to the vehicle, just in case.
Even though medics were at the scene, Bass was set on staying; he would help in any way he could for as long as he was needed.
"I started directing traffic while the paramedics worked the scene, although I did tell the paramedics to let me know if they needed any help," he said. "They had gotten one of the girls out and into an ambulance where a neighbor lady was staying with her. Then the medics asked if I could help, so I went over and they handed me the 9-year-old out of the vehicle."
As he carried her to the ambulance, he attempted to calm her, assuring her, "I'm here to help. I'm going to carry you to the ambulance so the nice paramedics can help you out."
With the two girls safe in the ambulance with the neighbor, Bass went back to directing traffic while the paramedics tended to the mother and getting the third child out of the vehicle.
"It seemed like an eternity before the other two ambulances, highway patrol, sheriff's deputies, and a fire truck showed up," Bass said.
It wasn't until the injured were on their way to the hospital and the officials left the area that Bass felt some relief. But, at the same time, and understandably so, he was also in a bit of shock at how he'd handled the situation.
"I did not realize how calm I'd stayed until after I left the scene," he said. "My first thought to myself after I had left was, 'Wow, I'm amazed at how calm I was that whole time.'"
Bass said he also remembers the relief he felt when the first ambulance pulled up. It was nothing short of a miracle that they just happened to be driving through on their way back to New Madrid, Missouri. An ambulance responding to this call via dispatch would have taken twice as long to get to the Cape Girardeau hospital, which was an hour away from the location of the accident.
And according to Bass' supervisor, Supervisory Civil Engineer Daimon McNew, that wasn't the only miracle that happened that day.
"I thought about how lucky those young women were that he was passing through at that time," McNew said. "Depending on the day/time, there may not be many people passing through that area as it's in somewhat of a remote location."
McNew said he wasn't surprised by Bass' actions that day either, as his character is to help out and volunteer whenever possible.
"When I first met him at a floodfight, he was willing to do whatever was asked without any pushback, in addition to freely providing his opinion without coming across as rude or abrasive," McNew said. "To this day, he still has this same demeanor. He is a great employee and a great person."
Like McNew, Administrative Support Specialist Jen Brooks has nothing but great things to say about Bass.
"He may not know this, but I consider him one of my best teammates," Brooks said. "He would say he is just doing his job, but I am not sure he realizes how much easier he makes mine and what a joy it is to have him on our team. He listens to his other teammates, offers help when needed, and boosts morale."
"He is definitely the type of person to help people, whether it's coworkers on the job or away from work, and does not expect anything in return," Construction Control Representative Chris Davidson added. "I know I am friends with him, but he really is a good dude."
The Memphis District employs the best of the best. The best of the best doesn't just mean completing work on time or doing what's right when others are watching; it also means being a good person and doing the right thing when no one is watching – a person like Shaun Bass.
"There is no way that I could have ever just driven on by; I'm not wired that way," Bass said. "I believe God had sent that ambulance through that area at the right time. I know deep down that it wasn't just pure luck."
Bass didn't just stop to help. He did everything he could to save that mother and her three daughters. When he saw the wreck and the injured, he was of course very worried, but even more so because no one in that vehicle was wearing a seatbelt.
"After looking in that vehicle and seeing those girls screaming and laying over the console and passenger seat, knowing that they ended up in that position from the back seat… that vision will always remind me of how important seatbelts are," Bass said.
The story of Bass' efforts circulated like wildfire, making its way to USACE Headquarters within a few days of the incident. But this isn't why Bass acted that day.
"When Shaun told me what happened, he was mainly focused on that fact that he knew he needed to help; he was just thankful to be in the right place at the right time," Brooks said. "Shaun didn't want the focus to be on him but only on getting the injured party the attention they needed."
His supervisor, colleagues, friends, and family all say he sets the standard for being a good person, and after hearing this story, it would be close to impossible for anyone to argue with that.