Community comes to aid of victim and child

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 14, 2003

Tragedy struck Covington County early Thursday morning when Shontell Burnett, 29, of Andalusia was killed in an automobile wreck on U.S. Highway 84 in the Sanford community.

Fatal wrecks are always tragic events, but when a young child loses her mother as a result of a wreck there is not an adjective capable of describing the feelings of hurt and sadness in which the people of Covington County have been immersed.

The news of the wreck, which occurred at 7:45 a.m., was sad news for everyone, but the news that it was a fatal wreck was especially difficult for those on the scene who tried to help.

Autumn Stephens was on her way to work at Andalusia-Opp Airport when a vehicle traveling east on U.S. Highway 84 flashed its brights at her warning her to slow down.

Stephens said she was behind another vehicle traveling west and within a mere moments she arrived at the scene of the wreck. It was 7:55 a.m. and Stephens said she could tell the wreck had just occurred.

It did not take her long to get involved. Stephens said she pulled her vehicle over on the side of the road and went towards the wrecked vehicle with her cellular telephone and asked if she could call somebody.

A man who works at Covington Electric Cooperation asked Stephens to call 9-1-1 and she did, but her need to help did not stop there.

She rushed towards the automobile and realized an injured woman was behind the steering wheel and a small child was in the back seat.

"I got out and called 9-1-1 and by that time people were just flooding to the car to try and help," Stephens recalled. "I told them I was CPR certified and if we could get her (the driver) out that I'd see what I could do.

"I reached and kind of felt for a pulse and she jerked," Stephens continued. "I just talked to her and tried to get her to keep coming through. Then, I didn't get a response."

Stephens was not the only concerned citizen hoping to prevent the tragic death.

"A lady from behind me said, 'I'm a nurse. Can I help?' and I told her I was certified in CPR and that I didn't know how to get her (the driver) out of the car," Stephens said. "I didn't try because I didn't know where to begin.

"I walked around to the other side of the car and another lady was standing there and you could tell she worked in the medical field (because she was dressed in something like scrubs)," Stephens continued. "I told her I didn't have any gloves and she handed me a pair of gloves. I leaned in the car from the passenger side and I tried to get the lady (driver) to come to again and I couldn't."

The next step was to check on the driver's condition.

"I tried to get a pulse from her neck and wrist and told the lady (who gave me the gloves) that I couldn't get a pulse," Stephens said. "She said, 'Let me try.' She got in and did the same thing and could not get a pulse either."

Stephens fought back tears as she continued her account of what happened less than two hours earlier.

"When I realized she was dead I went to her little girl," Stephens said wiping away tears. "They had her laying down on the back of a car and I asked the little girl if she was OK. She nodded yes. She had little specks of blood all over her face.

"She reached for me and I asked her if she wanted to sit up and she nodded yes," Stephens said adding that the girl did not talk and was probably in shock. "So, I sat her up and she reached for me and just held me really tight."

Stephens said the girl appeared to be about three-years-old and she tried to comfort her.

"I just told her how brave she was and how pretty she was and that I was so proud of her for being a big girl," Stephens said. "I asked if she was cold and she nodded yes. Another lady went and got a blanket for her and I wrapped her up. She leaned back into me wanting me to hold her, so I held her."

Stephens tried to be there for the little girl and make her feel better.

"Another lady came up who said she was her cousin and I told her she needed to hold her (the little girl) and she did," Stephens continued.

Stephens then asked the little girl to open her mouth so she could check and make sure she was not bleeding because she was not talking and had cuts on her face. Stephens did not see anything wrong with her mouth, but had noticed that the side of her face was swollen as paramedics came over to the little girl.

"The paramedics came over and put a neck brace on her and she started screaming," Stephens said. "She was looking at me and I wanted to hold her, but I knew she was in good hands.

"They took her away and that's when the paramedics declared her mother dead," Stephens said wiping more tears from her face as her voice broke. "The girl couldn't have been older than three-years-old, maybe four at the most."

Once the little girl was under the care of the paramedics, Stephens said she went to work at the airport but her mind was not on her job.

"That was the most horrible experience of my life," Stephens said. "All I could think about is that I have two boys and now that little girl will be without her mom.

"It just breaks my heart," she added. "You just wish you could do more."

The girl, who is three-years-old, was transported to Andalusia Regional Hospital where she was treated for injuries and released.