Navy Aircraft Mechanic first class Johnny Arrendondo Ponce became the first non-track worker to win the Race Track Chaplaincy of America’s White Horse Award when it was presented Oct. 25 at the Taylor Made Stallions’ White Horse Heroes Luncheon at Monmouth Park, one day before the Oct. 26-27 Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Ponce, a 30-year-old resident of Oceanside, Calif., was credited with saving the life of Lava Man’s groom, Noe Garcia, an employee of trainer Doug O’Neill. On July 23, when Garcia was hit by a drunk driver as he was on his way to work, Ponce saw his van overturned in opposing traffic on the San Diego Freeway. Making two U-turns, he found Garcia attempting to stand and bleeding profusely from his nearly severed left arm.
After persuading Garcia to lay down, Ponce stood in the roadway amid fast passing traffic and used his hands to form a tourniquet around Garcia’s arm.
“Initially, I was thinking of nothing else but, ‘What do I do?’” Ponce said. “Then I was asking God to keep a car from hitting us. His head was on the yellow line that divides the shoulder from the fast lane, and I had one foot on the shoulder and one foot in the fast lane when I was applying the tourniquet.”
Garcia, who had cared for Lava Man for three years, needed a prosthetic arm but was unable to afford it. A poker tournament held in August raised $120,000 (less expenses) to help pay for the arm and rehabilitation for Garcia, who is married and has four children.
“It was not an easy decision because we want to recognize somebody from the racing industry,” said Dr. Enrique Torres, president of the RTCA. “But our committee saw what Johnny did for one of our people. Practically he saved the life of one of our people, and for that reason we express our gratitude, recognizing him.”
“This award means a lot. I really didn’t expect anything like this,” Ponce said. “But to be honest with you, the more satisfying thing is that I got to see Noe alive and well afterward. To be reunited with him and see that he is improving, that is reward enough.”
Garcia, 39, continues to recover from his injuries. The driver of the vehicle that caused the accident was sentenced to five years in state prison Oct. 4.