Normally, all of Jason Brown's children would have been wearing their seat belts.
Last Saturday, Charlotte Brown, 7, wasn't. The child had been playing with a puppy in the back seat of her parents' Bronco, and must have undone her seat belt, her uncle, Daniel Brown told the Empire today.
In a split second, Charlotte's father, Jason Brown, lost control of his Bronco on an icy stretch of Egan Drive. The Bronco carrying the Brown family drove into a ditch. As the Bronco rolled, Charlotte was thrown from the vehicle.
Other drivers immediately stopped their cars and rushed to care for the accident victims.
Charlotte's mother, Audrey Brown, climbed out of the Bronco and began crying for her daughter, according to her brother-in-law.
"Charlotte was standing up by the side of the road, and her mother was calling for her," Daniel Brown said. "Charlotte called back, 'I'm over here Mom. I'm OK. I'm here.' "
For another split second, it appeared tragedy had been averted.
Instead, a Subaru station wagon lost control on the same strip of ice that sent the Brown family into the ditch. It crashed into five people, including Charlotte and a man who scooped her up in his arms to save her.
"It was just like that," Daniel Brown said. "Her mother looked up, and she was gone. She was just gone. And this car came flying over all of them."
Today, Charlotte remains in critical condition at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center where she is undergoing treatment for a broken back, two broken collarbones, broken ribs, a bruised heart and a spinal chord injury, said her uncle.
Although she was temporarily off a breathing tube, doctors had to put her back on a respirator due to a spike in her temperature, Brown said today.
Daniel Brown was in the emergency room at Bartlett Regional Hospital when Charlotte came in following the accident. He said he watched as doctors tickled her side and saw that what used to make her laugh didn't register.
"It was heartbreaking," Daniel Brown said. "They (doctors) scratched her feet. 'No' she said. They tickled her side. 'No.' ... I wanted her to say 'yes' so bad. I just kept thinking, 'Just say yes.' But there was just this real strong. 'No.'... I heard my brother-in-law crying behind the curtain when the doctors told him. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to see in my life."
But Daniel Brown said "miracles happen." He said the fact Charlotte survived the accident is a miracle in itself.
Charlotte, her mother, father and 2-year-old brother Corbin were among 14 people involved in the two-vehicle accident, Daniel Brown said.
And, although they can't be with her, the extended Brown family in Juneau is working to get Charlotte the financial help she needs, said Charlotte's grandmother Beatrice Brown.
"I really miss her. I just really, really miss her," said Beatrice Brown. "She is such a happy girl and she loves to sing. ... She knows she's in real big trouble. ... It just makes me cry so much and hurt so much. But my daughter Audrey keeps telling me 'Mom there's miracles. ... We are asking people to pray for her."
Myrna Brown, Charlotte's aunt, said there was no way for the family to express its gratitude to the stranger who saved her niece's life.
"We want to honor these people who stopped to help," she said. "We don't even know this man's name but if it weren't for him the impact would have killed Charlotte. ... We are so thankful."
Daniel Brown said no one is to blame for the accident.
"It really was an accident," Daniel Brown said. "It must be such a devastating thing to know you've hit another human being. ... We don't hold them responsible for what has happened. ... Our family just wishes them well."
The Brown family is asking anyone wishing to donate money to help the Brown family or to send a card to Charlotte to call 586-1221.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.