When it was all over, 12-year-old Miranda Bowman was crying hysterically, barely able to breathe or recall what had just happened.
Seconds earlier, her grandfather Paul Parker, 63, had died at the wheel of a car in which she was the front-seat passenger.
If it weren’t for some quick thinking and action by the girl from Burlington Township, the situation, already dire, could have turned into an even greater catastrophe.
“She is my hero,” said her mother, Stephanie Bowman. “You can’t imagine how proud I am of her.”
Stephanie Bowman was a jumble of emotions days after the accident that occurred Tuesday. She lost her father in the crash, but was spared the pain of also losing her daughter, largely due to the girl’s bravery and poise in the face of danger.
“As much as I am upset about losing my father, I can’t even imagine how worse this could have been,” she said.
The day started as a joyous one for Miranda. Her grandfather had often taken her brother to the New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, Cumberland County, to race go-karts, but Tuesday was the first time she had the chance to do something that she’d been anticipating for a long time.
On their way home, the day took a turn for the worse.
“He said he didn’t feel well and told me to just keep talking to him,” Miranda said. “Then he said he was scared, closed his eyes, and put his head on the glass. That’s when I knew he was dead.”
Parker, who relatives said had been suffering from a chronic heart condition, died of heart failure, but was still in the driver’s seat of the car with his foot on the accelerator.
At first, Miranda had no idea what to do when the speedometer began to rise, peaking at 80 mph, as the car barreled down Buckshutem Road in Millville.
She tried to dial 911, but in the heat of moment, couldn’t unlock her cellphone.
“I thought I was going to die too,” Miranda said. “I didn’t know what to do. I took off my seat belt and slid over to put my foot on the brake, but I couldn’t stop it.”
Lucky for Miranda, there was no traffic coming in the opposite direction as she grabbed the wheel and pointed the car toward some bushes and trees she hoped would safely halt the vehicle.
“It sounds weird, but I saw people do this on TV,” she said. “The car just kept running over bushes and trees. I ducked down and covered my head.”
The braking had slowed the car enough that Miranda was not hurt when the vehicle careened into the trees.
“I kicked the door open and was just crying and screaming,” Miranda said. “People must have thought I was a lunatic.”
She couldn’t be more wrong.
Her parents plan to present Miranda with a medal in honor of her bravery.