After a dinner of pizza casserole at her mother’s house in Alton, Iowa, Jamie Carrion, 26, had bundled her sleepy kids, Averie, four, and Abel, 21 months, into a pickup truck and headed home. It was 7 p.m., dark and freezing outside. Snow covered the landscape. Carrion, then three months pregnant, set the cruise control to 50 mph and pointed the truck down Highway 10. Few cars were on the road. Suddenly, the truck began to slide. It careened into a ditch and rolled two or three times before coming to a stop, tilted into a snow bank on its passenger side. Carrion blacked out.
“When I came to, I could hear Abel crying. It was pitch black, and I couldn’t see anything,” Carrion recalls. Frantically, she called to her children, feeling around in the dark for them. Finally, she managed to push the heavy driver’s door open enough so that the cab lights turned on. In the dim glow she saw Abel in his car seat. His nose was bloody, but he was not otherwise hurt.
Averie was nowhere in sight.
Carrion called Averie again and again. But there was only silence. In a panic, she found her cell phone and punched 9-1-1.
Averie had been conscious when the truck stopped rolling. The little girl called her mother, but she didn’t answer. Realizing the urgency of the situation, Averie wriggled through the broken passenger’s window and then tunneled out through a snowdrift.
It was terribly cold outside. What should she do? Looking all around, Averie spotted a lighted lamppost. Where there was light, there might be people — so she set off in that direction. First she had to climb over a fence; then she tramped a quarter of a mile through the snow. Soon her leggings were soaked to her skin. A house came into view, and a dog trotted out to meet her. She stumbled out of the snow and into the open garage, and the dog started barking. Then a boy came out to help her, and she began to cry.
The Zenks took Averie inside their home and gave her dry clothes. Jason’s father, Patrick, jumped into his car and went to search for the accident. He didn’t have far to go. Up ahead he saw the flashing lights of police cars and ambulances. EMTs were tending to Jamie and Abel. Cops told Patrick they were searching for a missing child. “I think I have who you’re looking for,” Patrick told them.
By mere coincidence, it was the first time in many years that the Zenks had stayed home for the Super Bowl. “She had a guardian angel over her that night,” Jason’s mother, Jean, says of Averie. Besides a few bumps and bruises, Averie and Abel were OK. Carrion knows she was given a remarkable reprieve that night from an accident that could have been so much worse. One thing she is sure of: her daughter’s courage and character. “Averie is very grown-up for her age,” she says. “The way she walked all that way to help us … She’s so smart, so brave.”