Road rage crash killed 3, but 11-year-old survivor brings hope to rescuers: 'She truly is my hero'
Seeing Demya Sibley's progress after responding to the grisly crash scene has been instrumental in helping the providers process the call
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
AVONDALE, La. — Seven weeks after her broken body was cut free from the mangled wreckage of a deadly Avondale car crash, 11-year-old Demya Sibley is battling back to full health, one day at a time.
"I'm focused on getting better," said Demya, who recently traded her wheelchair for crutches.
But that's not the rising sixth-grader's only feat.
The road rage crash she survived — a head-on, high-speed collision — killed three others, including her best friend, DeZerra Wright, 11, and DeZerra's mother, Raish-Nia Wright, 31.
The first responders who worked the accident say they've been haunted by the grim scene and the tragic deaths. Chris Landry, acting captain of the Bridge City Volunteer Fire Department, called it the worst crash he's ever worked.
But Demya's survival and her fight to recover have given Landry and his co-workers hope, a bit of joy that cuts through the darkness of that day.
In a way, she is rescuing her rescuers.
"It helps so much to see her progress," Michael Richoux said Wednesday as Demya and her family paid a visit to the Bridge City firehouse to finally meet some of the people who saved her life.
"I want to say thank you for caring and helping me," Demya said before pausing briefly, "well, helping us."
On the evening of April 17, Demya was tagging along with DeZerra, whose mother was taking her to have her hair braided. As Wright drove the girls west on Louisiana 18, Paul Ferrara, 49, of New Orleans, was driving east on roadway, his Dodge Durango speeding behind a pick-up truck, State Police said.
When the two-lane road widened to four near River Road, investigators say Ferrara, in what they described as road rage, sped alongside the truck and then hit the vehicle. The impact spun Ferrara's vehicle into the westbound lanes, where it crashed head-on into Wright's vehicle, according to authorities.
The wreck was so violent, the vehicles so crumpled, that first responders didn't think anyone could possibly have survived. Wright, DeZerra and Ferrara were dead at the scene.
"It was smashed up pretty good," Bridge City Fire Chief Gary Girard said. "I really thought we were going to be in recovery mode. I didn't expect anyone to survive this."
But then Richoux noticed something inside what was left of Wright's car.
"I saw an arm moving," he said.
Firefighters descended on the vehicle and overheard Demya's moans. Those moans turned to screams as the crew carefully cut through the top of the vehicle to pull her out, according to the firefighters.
Demya was in shock and pain. She had a brain bleed from a skull fracture, a broken right arm, a broken pelvis and shattered left leg, and deep gashes on her face, according to her mother Britney Torres, 34.
But first responders could tell the girl had a fighting spirit.
"She was fighting me all the whole way to the hospital," laughed West Jefferson Hospital paramedic Gilbert Andry.
Demya had surgery and spent just over two-and-a-half weeks at Children's Hospital in New Orleans. She was released May 4.
"She's doing a whole lot better. She's out of her wheelchair, now," Torres said.
Next up is physical therapy for her left leg, which was pieced back together with several rods and screws. Demya has taken an active role: she's been searching online, compiling lists of therapists and handing them to her mother.
An award-winning track star, a cheerleader and a dance team member before the crash, Demya can't wait to be able to run again. But she admits she's a little frightened to begin therapy, which will require re-learning to bend her long-immobilized leg.
"I'm just scared of the pain," Demya said.
The crew of Bridge City firehouse told Demya that if she ever needed any help in physical therapy, they'd be there in a heartbeat to cheer her on. On Wednesday, Girard handed her a firefighter's badge.
"You're part of our family now," he said.
In the days after the crash, Girard said he realized his firefighters needed a way to process the trauma that they were suffering after handling such a grisly scene.
"I've been in the fire service for 44 years," he said. "Before, you just had to suck it up. It opened my eyes that we need to have some type of debriefing."
The department brought in a priest and a team of people who specialize in trauma, including a therapist, to allow the crew to vent.
Kim Thomas, a West Jefferson Hospital EMT who drove Demya's ambulance, has kept in contact with her family, checking in on Demya's progress.
There are unhealthy ways to cope with the stress of the work first responders do, Thomas said. But she called Demya's recovery a healthy coping mechanism for them all.
"She truly is my hero," Thomas said. "Her outcome is a gentle reminder of why I love serving my community."
Firefighter Adam Shields responded to the crash and visited with Demya two days later in the hospital. On Wednesday, Shields and the other firefighters beamed at Demya, how much healthier and happier she seemed than the last time most of them had seen her.
"We see the worst of it, and that's it," Shields said. "We bring them to the hospital, and we don't hear any more about them. It's very rare that we get to see this side. It really helps."
Step by step
Demya is strong-willed and determined, her mother said. But she's had moments of depression. Over the Memorial Day weekend, the family attended a party with a bounce house and other games for children. Demya was in tears.
"I felt kind of sad because I saw all of the people and kids playing on the bouncy houses and running around," Demya said. "Normally, I would get up and play with my cousins, but couldn't. All I did was sit around."
In those moments, Torres said she tries to encourage her daughter and remind her that her time is coming.
"We'll get back there, one day, one step at a time," Torres said.
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