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Ole Miss Pharmacy Student Recounts Near-Death Rescue

From left, Sherry Jackson, Harmon Jackson, Tristen Jackson and Jessica Dickson responded to the screams of Chastity White as her daughter Helena was trapped in a submerged car. Photo courtesy of Tristen Jackson
From left, Sherry Jackson, Harmon Jackson, Tristen Jackson and Jessica Dickson responded to the screams of Chastity White as her daughter Helena was trapped in a submerged car.
Photo courtesy of Tristen Jackson

Five-year-old Helena White slept in her bed for the first time in 15 days this past Sunday after the near-fatal car wreck on Star Road near Brandon last month. She survived hanging upside down unconscious in a vehicle submerged in the 15-foot ditch along the road. White lived to celebrate her fifth birthday in pediatric ICU at UMMC because of “a lot of little miracles,” said Tristen Jackson, one of her rescuers.

Helena White was released from the University of Mississippi Medical Center this weekend after recovering from injuries sustained while trapped in a submerged car.
Helena White was released from the University of Mississippi Medical Center this weekend after recovering from injuries sustained while trapped in a submerged car.

It was a murky Sunday afternoon, three days after Christmas. The rain had let up as Tristen finished a movie with his girlfriend, Jessica Dickson, upstairs at his parents’ house in Brandon. The couple savored the comfortable quiet as he prepared for a nap and she opened a book.

“That silence was such a blessing, as before long I heard a screech of tires,” said Tristen. “I listened for any collision as we have wrecks in front of our house at least once a year.”

He didn’t hear anything more so he assumed someone stomped the gas too hard coming out of a driveway. A short hush passed before “blood-curdling yelling” ripped through the wet air. Loud “Oh my Gods” alarmed Tristian to look through the nearby window. The road is elevated around his house with small drainage ditches on either side. The vantage point from the window rendered him unable to see anything in the ditch but he spotted a man running towards the ditch.

The “Oh my Gods” turned into relentless “My baby! My baby! Please someone help my baby!” He and Dickson bolted downstairs to find his parents, Harmon and Sherry Jackson. They all ran outside, horrified by the sight they would encounter.

The bottom of the grey car poked out of the muddy water. The screams came from a woman standing waist-deep next to the car. She couldn’t get her small daughter out of the flipped car. The man who ran to the scene stood there on the side of the road, held back by his inability to swim.

Tristen’s mother was the first to jump in the cold water. Sherry Jackson had shed her cell phone, glasses and boots on ground by the ditch as she waded to the car.

Helena was underwater for  ​Photo courtesy of Rankin County Sheriff Department
Helena was underwater for 10 minutes before she was rescued.
​Photo courtesy of Rankin County Sheriff Department

“The momma was yelling, ‘My baby,’ over and over again,” Sherry said to Adam Ganucheau of The Clarion-Ledger. “I did what any mother would do. I jumped in the freezing water. I knew we had to get that little girl out.”

The wreck shattered the rear passenger window near the child. However debris (a pillow, some groceries) blocked the rescuers’ sight and reach. More people had gotten into water, including the man who couldn’t swim. He realized two things: the water was shallow enough to wade, and the child had to be cut out of her car seat. He had knives but “unfortunately his knives were too dull to cut through,” Tristen said.

Tristen called 911 at 4:09 p.m., while his father Harmon flagged down people on the Star Road to help and his girlfriend ran back to the house to find sharper knives. The vehicle nestled deeper under water with every shove from the panicked rescuers.

“Ultimately we all found ourselves in the water trying desperately to get the girl out but couldn’t seem to cut all the straps and clear the debris while she hung upside down completely submerged in the water,” Tristen said. “Not being able to see at all what we were doing underwater really hindered us. To make matters wosre no matter how we tried to shift the car we seemed to sink deeper in mud.”

All of this happened within 10 minutes. Then more passerby sent from Harmon increased the rescuers’ number to nine. They lifted the entire passenger side of the car and cut the child from the car seat straps. Her mother feared she was dead.

“We had to cut the seatbelt,” Chastity White said to Hattiesburg American. “It took, they said five minutes, it seemed like an hour to get her out. It was terrifying. I got her out, she was limp and blue and I’m like, ‘Oh, my baby’s dead.'”

Sherry who had jumped in the water first and a first responder began CPR on the girl as she laid on the bank by the ditch.

“Several of us started praying, not sure whether we had made it in time or not,” said Tristen. “After what seemed like the longest five minutes ever the girl started showing signs of life — slow pulse, shallow breathing. To say we were astounded and overjoyed would be an understatement.”

They still worried for the child, Helena. The amount of brain damage potentially caused from 10 minutes of unconsciousness underwater troubled them. Then, Helena’s small voice cried out for her mama and the rescuers found comfort in that.

“Honestly, it wasn’t just one person who is responsible for saving Helena,” said Tristen. “It took many people working together to make it all possible.”

The day may seem cursed for the White family, but Tristen believes there could have been a different outcome.

“Jessica and I could have never heard a scream if we had been watching a movie. My parents were already about to leave to go run some errands,” said Tristen. “It could have been raining which might have complicated things. It could have been closer to dark, and not as many people may have stopped to allow us to pick up the car.

“All in all, a lot of little miracles occurred to allow us to have the outcome we did.”

Tristen Jackson is now back in Oxford to complete his Ph.D. in pharmacy administration at University of Mississippi. He graduated from University of Mississippi’s Pharmacy School and recieved his Doctorate of Phramacy in 2010.

For those who are not able to picture such a chaotic day can view this video provided by MSNewsNow.com with footage retrieved from a dashboard cam from one of the Rankin County police cars.
MSNewsNow.com – Jackson, MS


Callie Daniels is a staff reporter for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at callie.daniels@hottytoddy.com.

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