LAURINBURG — It’s been two months since an accident along N.C. 15501 left a college student badly burned and took the life of a young rescue puppy. In the time since, a Laurinburg man has been hailed as a hero — not only by his own family, but by the family of the accident victim, as well.
On May 9, Jenna Elliott of Cary was heading home after classes at the University of South Carolina, where she is a senior majoring in finance and global supply chain. Her car was packed to the brim with belongings, as well as her 4-month-old puppy Dawson.
As she traveled north along N.C. 15501, she made the decision to pass a vehicle in a no-passing zone — and was soon confronted with an oncoming car that would make it difficult for Elliott to make the pass. She sped up and barely moved to the right before the oncoming arrived, but her speed caused her to lose control of the 2011 Infinity g37 and veered off the road into the woods.
“She first thought she had been distracted by her phone, but later said she didn’t think so,” said Elliott’s mother Ellen. “The police report said she should not have been passing a car there and that speed was also a factor.”
Miraculously, the oncoming car was being driven by Brandon Turner, 37, of Laurinburg. When he saw what took place in his rear-view mirror, he stopped and went back to see if he could help. What he found was a burning, twisted car that had its engine ejected about 25 feet away.
As Turner approached the car that had slammed into the trees, he would be forgiven if he wasn’t recalling a near-fatal accident he was involved in several years earlier.
In 2005, Turned was in a crash that almost took his life. He had a crushed ankle, three lacerations of his liver and developed numerous blood clots. Fortunately, for two families now, he survived — though he is still involved with problems resulting from the wreck that have left him disabled.
“He was really fortunate to have survived at all,” said Brandon’s mother Elinda. Brandon himself preferred not to talk about his or Elliott’s accident.
On May 9, he was on N.C. 15501 southbound returning from an appointment for a CT Scan on his ankle in Pinehurst.
Still, he managed to make his way off the road and into the woods that day.
“It’s a miracle, really, that the one person who could have been hit head-on is the one who came to her rescue,” Elinda said.
When Turner reached the car, he saw that Elliott had escaped from the driver’s seat but was still trying to reach into the car for something — and the car was on fire.
“Brandon only knew he had to get the girl (Jenna) away from the car because of the flames,” said Elinda.
The Good Samaritan immediately pulled Elliott away from her car just moments before it exploded into a ball of flames.
“He deserves to be recognized,” said Ellen, “because he saved my daughter’s life. Honestly, he saved her life. If he had not seen Jenna go off the road, been brave enough to walk up to a car that clearly was about to explode and physically pull her away … she would not be with us today.”
What kept Jenna at the car as it neared exploding was Dawson, who remained trapped inside. The puppy was a new member of the family for Jenna after it had been fostered following it being dumped at a high kill shelter.
“She was very attached to Dawson,” Ellen said. “She wanted to save it so badly.”
But when the car exploded, Dawson was lost.
Emergency responders quickly took over the care of Jenna at the scene, and Brandon followed as she was taken to the near-by helicopter pad where she was airlifted to the UNC Jaycees Burn Center in Chapel Hill.
Jenna spent 47 days in the hospital, during which time she endured five surgeries for her extensive burns and another for knee ligament damage sustained in the crash.
It’s been about two weeks since she left the hospital and, according to her mother, she is well on her way to recovery. In fact, Jenna recently began an internship with the technology company Lenovo and will return to USC in the fall.
For Brandon, things have returned to normal since the wreck — with one big exception.
“We could tell that what he was able to do that day really helped him — knowing he could help someone like he did,” Elinda said. “And he can relate to Jenna wanting to save her dog because we lost our dog — a 15-year-old Lhasa Apso named Jubilee — just a year earlier.”
The incident has also made Brandon’s grandmother, Judith Griggs, proud as well.
“I’m so proud of him for what he did,” Griggs said. “And I’m happy to see him get recognized for it.”
Jenna said there wasn’t anything in the world she could give Brandon that would thank him enough for what he did.
“He saved my life,” she said. “I couldn’t thank him enough because, without him, I wouldn’t be here. He was really brave to do what he did and I feel like we’ve got a life-long connection now.”
Jenna and her mother are hoping to be able to visit with Brandon in person soon.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]