'We got to get him out’: Good Samaritans worked to rescue Fort Lee veteran pinned under van

Decorated war veteran dies while helping stranded motorist in Virginia

SUSSEX COUNTY, VA (WWBT) - A group of good Samaritans jumped into action to help rescue a Fort Lee officer pinned underneath a minivan.

Linda Campbell was one of those women who stopped on the side of U.S. Highway 460 in Sussex County on April 18 to help Army Col. Gregory Townsend.

Townsend, 46, died Monday from injuries he suffered while helping a stranded motorist change her tire. Fort Lee officials said somehow the vehicle fell on him.

“All I could say was it’s a soldier,” Campbell said. “It’s a soldier on home turf doing a good deed. You’ve got to save him.”

Campbell was driving home when she came across a chaotic scene on near the Wakefield town line.

She recalls seeing a police officer tossing items on the ground out of his trunk.

“I yelled out the window, do you need help? Is everything okay?” Campbell said. “[He said] we need a jack.”

That jack was needed to lift a minivan on the shoulder of the road that had pinned Townsend underneath. But the jack wasn’t working, so Campbell tried waving down other drivers.

"We need a jack, stop, stop, stop!” she said. “We need a jack stop, stop, stop and every one of those motorists went past me like it was nothing."

That's when Campbell frantically ran back to the van.

"All my brain was thinking was time is of the essence,” she said. “His airway is being compromised and we got to get him out."

From there the group of four people including herself, and older man, a police officer and the driver of the van used brute human strength to lift the van off of the 46-year-old war veteran.

"I was [pushing the van up] and he was pushing and he reached down with one hand and grabbed him by his collar and just yanked him out," Campbell said tearing up.

Campbell recalled the officer saying Townsend had a faint pulse but was in bad shape.

"I knelt down and put my hand on his legs and just started praying,” she added. “We all just prayed. That was all we could do."

Ambulance and other medical personnel arrived on scene shortly after. Campbell went to her car and took a video, pleading for her friends on social media to pray for Townsend.

He was flown to VCU Medical Center where he died from his injuries four days later.

The decorated veteran, who served for nearly 23 years, died to help a complete stranger.

"An act of kindness on home turf," Campbell said.

Several colleagues of Townsend’s described the Commander of the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade at Fort Lee as a “genuine” person who would have helped anyone.

Campbell hopes sharing her story will encourage people to stop and help if they see a situation like this, adding it could make the difference between life and death.

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