(Midland, Texas – November 23, 2012)
One of the last survivors still hospitalized from the November 15 wounded warriors parade train accident tragedy when a Union Pacific train struck a parade float carrying wounded warriors and their wives during Midland’s annual “Show of Support/Hunt for Heroes” celebration is ready to leave Midland Memorial Hospital early this coming week.
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sanchez, Jr., 31, and a 13-year U. S. Army veteran stationed at Fort Carson, CO, is due to return to Colorado Monday or Tuesday along with his wife, Heather, who probably owes her life to her husband’s quick action in pushing her from the semi-truck flatbed trailer that served as a float as the train bore down upon the parade at over 60 mph. Heather Sanchez received various injuries from her fall, but Richard broke his back when he jumped from the trailer just as the train struck it, throwing him against a concrete pillar. Sanchez has been partially paralyzed and unable to walk since the tragedy, which killed four of his wounded comrades-at-arms, and seriously injured 15, which included Richard and Heather.
“I do have feeling in the lower part of my legs,” Sgt. Sanchez told Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Jakob Rodgers in a phone interview the Friday following Thanksgiving. “The swelling hasn’t really gone down yet, but I’m kind of hoping it will start going down a little bit more and then, with physical therapy and with occupational therapy, I will be able to walk.”
Sgt. Sanchez was in his third deployment to the Middle East with the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division when he was wounded just a month after arriving in Afghanistan. An enemy bullet shattered his right elbow, restricting his use of his right hand, and he returned home for treatment and rehabilitation.
This past week, Sgt. Sanchez, Heather and the couple’s attorney, Bob Pottroff of Manhattan, KS, appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” in an interview shot from Sgt. Sanchez’s hospital room. Pottroff is teaming with Lubbock, TX-based personal injury attorney Kevin Glasheen. The pair may also be representing other survivors or families of the victims of the Midland parade train accident. Heather Sanchez had appeared Monday with Pottroff in a televised news conference in front of the Midland County Courthouse.
“This would be a lot harder to go through if I didn’t have as strong a support system as I do,” commented Sgt. Sanchez, who plans to arrive Monday or Tuesday at Craig Hospital in Englewood, CO, an institution which specializes in spinal cord injuries. Sanchez says he would like to remain in the Army, but is being realistic about the odds given the serious and debilitating nature of his injury.