Pat McKinney, 68, and her granddaughter, Danielle, 13, were coming back from lunch in Bowdon, Ga., in a 2008 Volkswagen Jetta about 1 p.m. on Monday, said Ranburne police Officer Allan Fordham, who is investigating the accident. They were headed north through Ranburne when the Jetta left the road near the Dollar General Store on Main Street and hit a 2000 Ford Ranger, said Fordham.
The force of the crash knocked the pickup into the garage of a house at 21208 Main St. The Jetta crashed into the house, coming to a stop in the living room, Fordham said. The pickup caught fire, which spread to the garage but didn’t reach the house, he said.
“They had a NASCAR-type accident,” said a paramedic who worked at the scene.
According to Ranburne Fire Chief Carl Smith, a woman named Janice Williams lives in the house, but it was not occupied at the time of the accident.
Danielle McKinney said she had closed her eyes and didn’t see the impact, but she heard glass breaking and squealing tires. After the crash, the first thing the teen noticed was her legs were wet. She opened her eyes and saw that the air bags had deployed. She said she learned later that the water had come from the air bags. When she looked to the side, the girl thought she saw fire and knew she and her grandmother had to get out of the car. Her grandmother was moaning but not fully conscious, the girl said.
“I tried to wake her up,” Danielle McKinney said.
But her grandmother wouldn’t wake up. The teen pushed a piece of lumber off her grandmother’s chest and unbuckled her seatbelt. Then she went to get help.
“I tried my door and couldn’t get it open,” Danielle McKinney said. “I crawled into the back and tried the door and couldn’t get it open.”
She was able to crawl out the back passenger window, then she realized they were in a house. She walked around the house looking for help or for people who were hurt. But she wasn’t able to see a way around the car to the outside. She saw some people outside and called for help. One man came and helped her and two more came and helped her grandmother, the girl said.
When the ambulance got there, the two were in the Dollar General parking lot waiting for help.
The paramedic said the scene was horrific. When he looked in the car, every air bag had deployed. The 4-foot piece of lumber that had landed on Pat McKinney was lying on the dashboard and the steering wheel was bent.
“It was a crash that people should not have survived,” said the paramedic, who didn’t want to be identified.
Fordham said the damage was evidence that the Jetta was going faster than the speed limit. But he’s still investigating how fast, and why the car left the road. He could usually determine the speed by the skid marks, but there were none, Fordham said. The city of Ranburne might have to call in Alabama State Troopers to help figure it out, he said. The troopers can access the car’s computer, Fordham added.
The two McKinneys were transported to Regional Medical Center and left later that evening. Pat McKinney is bruised and sore and Danielle McKinney has a broken wrist and bumps and bruises. They were lucky because of the safety features in the car and because of Danielle McKinney’s quick thinking, said Justin Roberts, the teen’s cousin.
The paramedic said he couldn’t believe a 13-year-old would react with such a clear head.
“It was amazing,” the paramedic said.
Roberts said her actions showed a presence of mind well beyond her years.
“She jumped out of the car and ran through the house looking for people. She knew they’d be injured,” Roberts said. “She realized the house was empty and worked on getting her grandmother out.”
Danielle McKinney said it makes her uncomfortable to be called heroic.
“I don’t really see anything superior about walking through a house to see if anyone’s hurt,” she said. “I think it was just instinct.”
Her grandmother said the actions were typical of her granddaughter.
“She’s a young woman who is not usually excitable,” Pat McKinney said. “She’s aware and conscious of helping other people and always has been.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.