Paramedics and EMTs are used to responding to tragic, fatal accidents. But the driver who died in the fiery crash in Livermore Thursday turned out to be an EMT with Royal Ambulance in San Leandro.
"I think, obviously, when somebody close to you is killed, whether you're an EMS or in any other industry, it really hits home and you're not able to have that sort of detachment as maybe you do on a professional level," said Eve Grau with Royal Ambulance. "His loss is just tremendous for us. Again, he was one of those people that everybody wanted to work with."
Whittaker was sitting in backed up traffic on Interstate 580 when a Hummer slammed into his Jeep Cherokee at more than 50 miles per hour. Both cars burst into flames.
Whittaker died while trapped inside. Garcia and a passenger were able to escape their burning Hummer.
The CHP arrested the 53-year-old on suspicion of DUI. Garcia was booked into Santa Rita Jail after being treated for his injuries at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. He was released Friday on $125,000 bond.
"There's nothing that he could do and that's the scary part about this story," Grau said.
Whittaker is being remembered by coworkers dedicated and compassionate. In addition to working for Royal Ambulance in San Leandro for two years, he was also an EMT field trainer and recently worked at Highland Hospital in Oakland as an ER tech.
One thing he and other EMTs do to protect themselves is to "compartmentalize" their emotions. But it hasn't been easy.
Whittaker was the second ambulance employee to die in as many days.
On Wednesday, 47-year-old John Braden crashed into a big-rig on Interstate 5, north of Sacramento. He was a critical care transport nurse with NorCal Ambulance in Dublin. His wife also worked here and they had six children.
"We definitely compartmentalize," said NorCal Ambulance paramedic Makenzi Kelly. "We have to when we're dealing with patients. But when it's one of your family members, there's no way that you can compartmentalize."
The concern now is that many ambulance workers are dealing with an avalanche of emotions after tucking them away on a daily basis.
Overnight, Royal Ambulance posted a message about Reed on its Facebook page.
It reads, in part, "Your compassion and dedication to helping others was inspiring and everyone loved having you as their partner."
In a few hours, that message had been "liked" dozens of times.
And a touching tribute, many of those people changed their Facebook photo Friday to an EMT logo with a black bar across it, in honor of their lost friend Reed Whittaker.