Jason Gabriel was parked in front of the emergency doors at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in Lower Sackville, N.S. last Friday morning when he heard a loud crash.
What happened next has resulted in the Stephenville native and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer being hailed as a hero.
Gabriel, 37, said after he heard the noise he turned in his seat to look out the window, but with the door frame blocking his view he couldn’t see anything.
“So I opened the door at that point and ... I saw this young girl pinned between two cars.”
Gabriel jumped out of his vehicle only to realize that the car that caused the collison was still moving across the parking lot and was headed towards the emergency section of the centre.
He started to run towards it.
“I saw the driver was leaned back in his chair and you could tell that something was wrong.”
Luckily the driver’s window was open, so Gabriel grabbed the steering wheel and guided the car into a barricade at the edge of the parking lot. He’s not sure how fast the vehicle was travelling.
By then, two witnesses had run to the assistance of the 11-year-old trapped girl and her grandmother, who was on the other side of the car. Gabriel said he didn’t know until afterwards that the grandmother had just taken an infant out of the car and placed it in a stroller before the crash. The grandmother had been hit in the head by the car.
Gabriel then ran into the hospital to let the staff know what had happened.
Once back outside, some medical staff tended to the driver and Gabriel’s attention returned to the pinned girl.
“Myself and another Halifax Regional Police member and one of the firefighters on scene there, we moved the car, we picked it up and kind of moved the back bumper over so we could free her from where she was trapped.”
The girl was put on a stretcher and taken inside the hospital. She’s now recovering from a broken femur.
Gabriel said he didn’t have time to think about what he was doing.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of time to assess anything. I opened the door and it was just instantly reacting.
“My concern was to get that car stopped, so that’s basically what (I did) — I took off straight for the car.”
From there, Gabriel said he just started going through the motions.
“It’s funny everything slows down when you’re in a situation like this,” he said. “I had a lot of thoughts in hindsight, playing it back in my head.”
He knew he wanted to free the girl, but he also knew it could be worse to do so. That’s why he ran for the hospital and not the girl after stopping the runaway car.
“I thought, ‘I want to have the medical staff there for when she is freed.’”
Gabriel has been getting a lot of attention because of his actions. The story has been featured by several news agencies and has been shared around Facebook.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” said the modest officer. “Of course I knew the media would be there because of the circumstances, you know, a collision at the hospital involving a young girl. I figured that it wouldn’t take long for cameras to be going around.
“I just didn’t expect it to be turned around on me.”
Gabriel has been a member of the force for about four years and has seen a lot of things, but said this one really affected him.
“It’s the first time I think that I saw something involving a young person or child. It hits close to home because she’s the same age as my boys.”
Gabriel and his wife Cheryl (nee Grenier), who is also from Stephenville, have 11-year-old twin boys, Austin and Kenny.
Gabriel said he lived in Stephenville until the age of 21 when he moved to Calgary. He still has family in the area including his brother Jamie Gabriel and in-laws Paul and Carolyn Grenier.
He laughs when he notes that his first job was as a paper carrier for The Western Star, starting when he was about 12.
After spending a year in Calgary, Gabriel moved to Lower Sackville and joined the military.
His military career included a tour in Afghanistan from Sept. 2008 to May 2009 where he had some interesting experiences including being close to a dud rocket and almost getting hit with a bullet
“A few close calls,” he said. However, those experiences did nothing to deter him from wanting to join the RCMP.
Gabriel actually started the process to enter the RCMP before leaving for Afghanistan. He said he didn’t want the RCMP training academy, called the Depot Division, to think he was switching because of his Afghanistan experience.
He said joining the force was something he’d always thought about, but didn’t think he be in a position to do.
“And the opportunity came along where basically they started paying at depot again and it gave me a way to go about trying it.”
He entered Depot Division not long after returning from Afghanistan and was posted to Gander after graduation. He’s been in Lower Sackville for just over a year.