‘He was panicking:’ Marine helps, forms bond with boy, among 7 hurt in crash that took life of 18-year-old

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A serious crash claimed the life of an 18-year-old man in Washington County, and sent others to the hospital, but a good Samaritan passing by late Sunday, July 8 may have saved another life.

The United States Marine told FOX6 he's been overseas on multiple deployments, but what happened on I-41 and Highway K on Sunday was something he'll never forget.

"This one will stick with me. I tried to assess the priority of who's conscious, who's not conscious," said Gunnery Sgt. Peter Vargo.

Vargo passed the crash scene like many others, but he stopped, and soon met 10-year-old John.

"Naturally, being young, he was panicking," said Vargo.

Authorities said Alex Hoefs was traveling northbound on I-41 when he crossed the median and struck an SUV. Hoefs would lose his life, and seven people in the SUV, including John, waited for help.

Alex Hoefs

Fatal crash on I-41 in Washington County

Fatal crash on I-41 in Washington County

"Being a father, no parent likes to see their kid that way, and I didn't like seeing him that way, so I wanted to make sure I got him calmed down, distract him -- get his mind off of what was actually taking place," said Vargo.

Paramedics would cut John's shirt off and whisk him away, leaving his new Marine Corps. friend wondering who he was, and whether he made it. A phone call revealed some good news.

"He called me and said 'thank you' for helping him and 'thank you for my service.' I just commended him on being brave and again, being 10 and going through that. That's hard," said Vargo.

The two reunited on Wednesday, July 11, surrounded by Marines.

"John greeted me with a container full of cookies that they made and a thank you card, and I gave John a new Marines shirt, a sweatshirt, a few things to brighten his spirit a little bit and let him know -- hey -- you did a good job," said Vargo.

They smiled like old friends.

"He couldn't smile a whole lot because there's a lot of swelling, but you could tell he's pretty happy," said Vargo.

Gunnery Sgt. Peter Vargo and John

Vargo said he plans to celebrate birthdays and graduations with his new friend John, calling this a situation that puts life into perspective.