News / Canada

Five-year-old B.C. girl saves mother, baby brother after serious car crash

A five-year-old B.C. girl is being hailed as a hero for helping save her mother and baby brother’s lives following a car crash in which she hiked barefoot up a steep embankment to flag down a passerby for help.

The girl’s mother, Angela Shymanski, said she and her two children, five-year-old Lexi and now four-month-old Peter, were driving home to Prince George from a vacation to the Calgary area on June 8 when she felt herself getting increasingly tired behind the wheel.

She told herself she would pull over once she reached Jasper, Alta., to get some rest— but she never made it. Their SUV traveled down a 12-metre steep embankment about 15 kilometres outside of Jasper and crashed into a tree.

Angela said she was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken back and internal injuries. Her daughter Lexi woke up to her baby brother’s cries, and somehow knew she needed to get help.

The little girl managed to unclip the five-point harness on her car seat, which was lodged up against the seat ahead of her, open the smashed car's passenger door, and climb up the embankment’s steep and rugged terrain without any shoes.

Once at the top, Lexi managed to flag down a vehicle and tell the driver what had happened.

“It’s crazy,” Angela told Metro. “I only can remember one or two times where she got out of her five-point harness previously. She somehow got out, adrenaline or whatever, and barefoot hiked up the embankment.”

The first passerby to stop hiked down and took baby Peter out of the vehicle. Unable to pull Angela to safety by himself, he went back up to the road to flag down another driver.

That decision also turned out to be a miracle, said Angela, as the next person to stop was a paramedic who knew to not try to move her.

She said her broken back had caused a bone fragment to become lodged inside her spinal column about a half centimetre from her spinal cord.

“If they would have jostled me a little bit, I might have been completely paralyzed,” she said. “It’s hard to know.”

After the crash, the family was taken by ambulance to a health care centre in Jasper, and later airlifted to hospital in Edmonton. At first Angela’s injuries appeared to be the most severe, but doctors later realized that Peter had also suffered a serious brain bleed.

The infant was rushed into surgery and seems to be recovering well, said Angela.

At first, Lexi's only injured appeared to be a small scratch on the left side of her face. She now complains of neck pain, however, that appears to be the result of soft tissue injury, and also has nightmares, said Angela.

Angela said she had to be resuscitated twice after the crash while en route to hospital.

Six weeks later, Angela still has significant pain and spends most of her time resting in a hospital bed in the family’s living room. She also has nerve damage in her left leg.

Still, she said, the crash could have been much worse if not for the efforts of her heroic daughter.

She said she was later told the location where her vehicle had traveled off the road was not visible from the highway.

Angela had also told her husband she would be taking a different route home but ended up missing the turnoff. If not for Lexi going to get help, search and rescue crews may not have figured out where they had crashed once her husband reported them missing.

“It was only because she came up and flagged people down that anybody would have stopped," she said. "It’s crazy because the guy who came to see us in the hospital, he said the medics and the firemen needed ropes to get up and down that embankment, and she did it barefoot."

Angela said she has no idea how her daughter managed to do it, except to say that she has always been very aware of safety precautions.

When Lexi was four years old, Angela said she and her husband taught their daughter how to call neighbours for help in an emergency.

“It seems crazy to do that with a four-year-old, but that must have saved her life,” she said. “It’s amazing and we’re just so glad she did that.”

Today, Angela said her daughter seems to be blissfully unaware of how much her efforts helped save her mother and brother’s lives.

“She just doesn’t know what it means,” she said. “She’s just five years old and so happy to be home and playing with her dog and her ducks.”