One thought became crystal clear to Taylor Winston as carnage surrounded him. He needed a truck, and he needed it now.
The 29-year-old from San Diego was in the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival Sunday night when a man opened fire from the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel Resort and Casino.
“People were bleeding everywhere,” Winston said. “Gunshot wounds were everywhere. Legs, torsos, necks, chests, arms — just dozens of people.”
Winston, who’d served in the Marines, knew victims needed to get to a hospital right away. He spotted a nearby parking lot and started running toward it. He knew that festival employees often left keys in work vehicles and he was hopeful. He got lucky.
“The first one we opened had keys inside,” Winston said.
Over the next 40 minutes or so, Winston and a friend, Jenn Lewis, would transport 20 to 30 critically injured people to a hospital in the commandeered truck.
“It was a lot of chaos, but within the chaos there was a lot of good being done and a lot of people rising to the occasion and helping others,” he said.
Just a couple of days removed from the mass shooting, more stories from survivors, including San Diego residents, are emerging.
Jeffrey Koishor of San Diego said in an online post that it wasn’t until singer Jason Aldean ran off the stage that people realized they weren’t hearing fireworks, but gunshots.
People in the crowd around him dropped to the ground. Koishor threw himself over a friend, and, moments later, a piercing pain shot through his leg.
Koishor still managed to run to a nearby bar, where his leg finally gave out. He was again shielding his friend when he was shot a second time. He said the left side of his body “wasn’t working” so he ran another 50 yards to cover, hopping on his right leg.
“I have never ran so fast on one leg in my life,” he wrote on Facebook.
Two strangers helped him get to a hospital.
Doctors told Koishor that one of the bullets had shattered his fibula and the other had fragmented when it hit his hip. Neither the bullet nor the fragments could be removed for fear of damaging surrounding nerve tissue.
“Obviously I’m in pain, but I will take the pain tenfold knowing how lucky I am to be alive,” he wrote.
Another San Diegan, 27-year-old Tina Frost, underwent surgery to remove a bullet that lodged in her right eye, her family said on Facebook. On Tuesday, she remained in a coma — in critical but stable condition — at a Las Vegas hospital.
Other local residents injured in the shooting include George Sanchez, 54, of San Diego, who was shot in his left arm, as well as Del Mar Deputy Fire Chief Jon Blumeyer and a San Diego firefighter, both of whom had injuries that were not life threatening. Zack Mesker, 22, of San Marcos, was shot in his pelvis and is being treated at a Las Vegas hospital’s intensive care unit.
Winston, the Marine veteran, said he and his friends were to the right of the stage when the shooting began. People were being hit by bullets all around them as they ran to a nearby fence. They started throwing people over the other side, eventually climbing over themselves.
Winston and Lewis appropriated the truck soon after.
With gunfire continuing in the background, they hopped into the truck and started driving around, picking up injured people.
Victims were everywhere.
He soon spotted a group of his friends who had set up a makeshift medical area. Strangers were dragging victims there and others were providing emergency first aid.
He pulled up and started loading the most seriously injured into the truck.
“I think the hardest part was seeing so many people who desperately needed help and only being able to take a handful of them at a time,” Winston said.
It took about 10 minutes to get the people they had picked up to a hospital. Once the victims were in the hands of medical professionals, Winston looked at his friend and said, “We’re going back for round two.”
They returned and loaded a second group.
“We were looking for the most critically injured,” he said. “It was hard to gauge, but we tried to make decisions as quickly as possible to hopefully save as many people as possible.”
By the time they went back for a third trip, there were several ambulances in the area.
He said he doesn’t know if all the people they assisted survived. A couple of them were limp and unconscious by the time they got to the hospital. He said he might be reunited with some of the people he transported later this week.
“I just know I’m super fortunate,” he said. “I just wanted to help as much as possible and, in life, nothing gets done by losing your cool.”
Winston decided to stay in Las Vegas for a little while longer, to continue to try and help.
“I could have easily gone back to San Diego in my safe little area with everyone I know and forget this all happened, but I’d rather be here and help out the best I can and not run from it,” he said.
As for the truck he commandeered, he parked it sometime later and it ended up being towed. Winston and the owner were connected via social media, and they got together Monday night so Winston could return the keys.
He said they had a heart-to-heart, and the owner didn’t mind “at all” that Winston had borrowed the truck.
Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.