AMHERST, N.S. – It could have been much worse.
One second, Candice Hicks was driving her minivan with her three kids aboard.
The next second, they were flipped upside down in a river at the bottom of a steep embankment.
“It was very scary,” said Hicks.
On Nov. 1, 2018, at about 4 p.m., Hicks and her three kids - Sophia, six at the time of the crash, four-year-old Ethan, and two-year-old Elise - were traveling from their home in Amherst towards Oxford on Highway 204.
While passing through Little River, Hicks hit a rut running along the edge of the road, lost control of the van and ended up in the river.
Hicks and Sophia were able to free themselves from the van, but Ethan and Elise remained suspended upside down in their child safety seats.
Hicks broke both bones in her forearm and shattered her wrist, but with help from Sophia they managed to free Elise.
Ethan lost consciousness and was on the side of the van where he was hard to reach.
“We looked up to the street and the cars were just driving by, I was screaming for them to stop,” said Hicks. “Sophia says I screamed like a crazy person.”
Realizing nobody could hear them or see them, and not wanting to leave her kids behind, she knew she would have to send Sophia for help.
“My two-year-old is standing there in the cold water, and my son was on the other side of the van where there were really big bushes and he was unconscious,” said Hicks. “I didn’t want to leave those two down there, so Sophia climbed up my back onto the bank and then up the hill and waved down a car.”
The driver of the vehicle, Doug Patriquin, was driving home from work and saw Sophia waving on the side of the road in Tony Terry’s driveway.
Patriquin, a retired member of the Oxford Fire Department, pulled his vehicle to the side of the road, wrapped Sophia in a blanket and climbed down the embankment to help free Ethan.
Upon arrival, Terry was already on the scene, and Patriquin handed him his knife so he could cut the seatbelt and extract Ethan from the van.
Terry was in his garage when he heard tires squealing and saw the van fly off the edge of the road and down into the river. He called 911 and rushed to the scene.
Terry said if the van had gone into the river two feet in either direction the crash would have been much worse. Two feet the left, the van would have crashed into concrete. Two feet to the right, the van would have gone into a deep water hole.
'She was so brave and so calm'
On Jan. 16, Sophia received the Act of Heroism Award from the RCMP.
During the presentation EHS paramedic Jamie MacKinnon talked about what he saw when he arrived on the scene, saying he was met with bystanders carrying cold, wet children towards him who were covered in jackets and blankets from bystanders.
They placed Candice, Ethan and Elise in the back of the ambulance.
“Sophia was in the passenger seat of a bystanders truck covered in jackets trying to warm up,” said MacKinnon.
He went over to assess her condition and she told him what happened.
“She was separated from the rest of her family, but she was so brave and so calm,” said MacKinnon. “She likes to talk. She told me everything that happened. How they were able to get out of the van, how old her siblings were, and where they lived.”
MacKinnon thanked everybody who helped out that day.
“We usually don’t have the opportunity to thank you in the moment, so this is a great opportunity to thank you for helping the family before we arrived,” said MacKinnon. “I personally thank all the bystanders that stopped to help this family.”
Looking back upon the circumstances at the scene, the outcome could have been much worse.
“It’s not often we get these positive outcomes in a situation like this,” said MacKinnon.
He then congratulated Sophia on her award.