A hand in the door and a foot on the ground

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An Okaloosa County patrol car arrived just as the sun was setting over Hurlburt Field. Six vehicles sat motionless as smoke billowed from damaged cars, debris was scattered across the roadway, and a bloodied man was pinned to the ground.

As the chaos ensued, one Airman stayed grounded.

“I’m telling you, I've never felt that feeling,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Sentilles, a special mission aviator instructor for the 5th Special Operations Squadron. “I've been deployed on gunships 11 times and been involved in some pretty [intense missions], but I cannot begin to explain what it felt like.”

He hopes to never experience that feeling again.

Sentilles was driving his daughter home from school Nov. 13, 2019 and discussing options for dinner when it happened. He glanced in the passenger side view mirror and noticed a vehicle that bounced off the guardrail behind him and was speeding through the grass shoulder before hitting a drainage pipe, causing him to careen into traffic.

“As soon as I made a lane change, that's when I was impacted. I didn't really know what happened,” said retired Master Sgt. Thomas Canada, a former member of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla. “The guy behind me told me that someone had impacted my vehicle, went over the right side of it and landed on the median. I was just regaining consciousness from hitting my head on the steering wheel. I got my bearing, looked around, and saw smoke everywhere.”

There was shredded debris scattered across the roadway, said Canada. He saw the reckless driver exit the truck and begin running towards the other vehicles involved. The man tried to enter an elderly couple’s car, but the doors were locked, and that’s when he made the dash towards Sentilles’ truck.

“It all happened so fast,” said Sentilles.  “I noticed the driver got out of his vehicle, then suddenly ran by me and was going towards my truck. So I took off after him as he was running.”

When the man reached his truck with his daughter in it, Sentilles crushed the man’s hand as he was trying to enter the cabin by ‘body slamming’ the door with his hand in it. He dug his fingers into the man’s eye sockets, threw him into the median, and held him down until the police arrived.

The suspect didn’t put up much of a fight at that point and was in “pretty rough shape” likely due to the accident and ensuing altercation, according to Sentilles.

“After police arrived, Sentilles went around checking on everyone which was interesting because not only had he just fought this guy, but he also helped detain him,” said Canada. “While the EMTs were checking me out, he stopped over to ask if there's anything he could do. I thought that really spoke to his character.”

A father of five, Canada said what he respected the most about him was the lengths Sentilles was willing to go to help his daughter. Sentilles acknowledged he was willing to put himself in harms way if it meant protecting his daughter.  

“Your kids live in a little protective bubble, and you try to shield them from all the evil in the world,” said Sentilles. “Afterwards, I just tried to reiterate to her, we make this drive every single day and have the same conversation. Stay alert, don't do drugs, and your daddy's got your back, no matter what.”

He looks back on the incident and is reminded just how fast the world can change. Had he just been three or four cars ahead of where he was in traffic that day he and his daughter might have been struck by the oncoming vehicle.

His drive home that day bring thoughts of gratitude for being able to respond and prevent the suspect from gaining access to the vehicle with his daughter still inside. Those actions, according to Sentilles, are due in large part to his upbringing as a young man in a small town in southern Louisiana where he was taught the importance of protecting others.

“A lot of times because we’re in the military, we’re used to providing a service and not thinking about it,” said Canada. “Sometimes we don't know the value of that service we're providing. Although Sergeant Sentilles wears the uniform, I think this shows that he’s a great dad. Not everyone gets credit for being a dad and I think the fact that he did that for his child speaks volumes because this could have easily gone a different way.”