A 9-year-old Columbus boy who helped his grandmother and younger siblings out of their overturned SUV is a hero in his family’s eyes.
Joey Russell was in the front passenger seat of a Chevy Blazer being driven by his grandmother, Brenda Russell, when an oncoming car in the wrong lane was heading toward them Feb. 22 on State Road 11. It was not far from Joey’s home near the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds. They were planning to go to a screening of “The Lego Movie.”
Joey’s 5-year-old twin siblings, Brooklyn and Braden, were strapped into car seats in the back seat.
Brenda Russell noticed the oncoming car was heading right at them. She told police she swerved and was almost entirely off the road when the oncoming car sideswiped the front driver’s side of her Blazer, sending the SUV spinning and then flipping it over into a culvert.
“It was a nightmare,” she said, recalling her first thought being that her grandchildren were in the car and they could be injured.
Dazed and not thinking clearly, she sat for a moment. And then she saw Joey was finding a way to get out.
Injured himself, Joey had some trouble unbuckling his seat belt. But once free, he checked on his grandmother and the twins, and then worked his way between the front seats and out the back of the vehicle where the back seat windows had broken out.
The SUV had come to rest with the driver’s side pushed into the side of the culvert, so Brenda Russell realized she couldn’t get out that way.
As a smell of gasoline became stronger in the car, Brenda Russell realized that her seat belt was unbuckled, but she was unsure if it had come undone or if Joey had unbuckled it.
Joey went back in after Braden, who was upside down in his car seat near the broken car window and crying.
“I just told him I was going to get him out,” Joey said.
A resident who lived nearby, Justin Robertson, was able to open the door, and Joey handed Braden off to him and then went back in to the other side of the back seat to get Brooklyn.
As he was unbuckling her car seat, he didn’t get a good grip on her, and she fell into the vehicle, cutting the top of her head on broken glass from the windows.
Joey got her out and went back in for his grandmother, helping her between the seats and out the back with Robertson’s help.
He went back into the vehicle again to retrieve his grandmother’s purse, which had a cellphone, and an Under Armour sweatshirt that his grandmother had just given him.
Then he called his mom, Bonnita Russell, to tell her what happened.
Brenda Russell said Joey was calm and collected throughout the incident, even though his knees had been injured when they hit the dashboard. He had everyone out of the car before the Indiana State Police and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department arrived. Joey said he didn’t feel any pain until he was out of the SUV for the final time and police arrived.
“He made sure to get my purse so I would have my stuff,” Brenda Russell said. “He came over and sat by me and was hugging me. He had to be hurting.
“So thankful my babies were saved.”
The driver of the other car involved, William Elkins, told Indiana State Police trooper Korry Clark that he was traveling north on State Road 11 trying to fix the lid on a drink when the collision occurred.
Elkins was not injured, according to the police report.
Joey, Brooklyn and Brenda Russell were all treated at Columbus Regional Health and released. Joey and his family returned to the accident scene later to thank Robertson for his help.
Joey was taking his family’s gratitude in stride a few days after the accident, saying he “just knew what to do” after the accident.
And he took some good-natured teasing about grabbing the sweatshirt but would only reply that it was a gift from his grandmother and “it was warm.”
“He’s my hero,” his grandmother said.