Local News

Survival story turns tragic with young mother's death

Posted October 20, 2010

— A young Georgia mother gained national attention last month after a North Carolina state trooper rescued her and her children from a burning minivan.

Now, the family of Jessica White DePriest is grappling with her sudden death after she choked on a bologna sandwich last week.

A relative who stopped by DePriest's home in Hinesville, Ga., on Oct. 13 found the 24-year-old veteran of the Iraq war dead on the floor.

The night before, she had put her children to bed and called a friend to bring over something to eat, said her adoptive mother, Janice White, who lives in Dunn.

The waxy red tape was still on the edge of the bologna sandwich when DePriest took a bite, White said.

"When they did the autopsy, they said that's what it was, and they said that's why she couldn't get the bologna out of her throat," she said.

On Sept. 9, DePriest and her children were headed to Hinesville from White's home when engine trouble forced her to the shoulder of Interstate 95 near Lumberton.

Trooper Alan Humphrey stopped to help, and he discovered the minivan's engine was on fire. As the flames quickly spread, Humphrey pulled 18-month-old triplets Raychel, Rebekah and Kalob and 2½-year-old Jakob from the vehicle.

Jessica DePriest and family Survival story turns tragic with young mother's death

A passing driver used a fire extinguisher to slow the flames enough for Humphrey to get the family to safety before the minivan's gas tank exploded.

"I told (Humphrey), I said, 'You're an angel sent from God,'" White said.

The episode and the subsequent acclaim that followed DePriest and Humphrey left the young mother in shock, White said.

"She said, 'Why did God allow this to happen to me?'" White said. "I said, 'Honey, I don't think of it that way. I think of it as, wasn't God good to save you and all four of the babies?'"

Sharon Hawes, DePriest's adoptive sister, said she wonders if the minivan fire was a warning sign.

"She said, 'What would you do with the babies if I go (to heaven)?'" Hawes said.

DePriest's husband, Army Spc. Patrick DePriest, has since returned home from Iraq and is caring for the children with help from his mother, who also lives in Georgia.

"They know Mommy is not here," Hawes said of her nieces and nephews.


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  • jenniferdoll Oct 21, 2010

    My Mom and I saw her in Belks in Dunn the day the van blew up. Her 2 1/2 yo son was in a onesy and no shoes. I struck up a conversation with the child about his animal on his shirt. The woman then explained that she did not dress her kids this way but was just in a vehicle fire. My Mom and I were distraught, my mom took the woman and bought her and her kids some new clothes and gave her some money for shoes. I felt so bad for her that day, and now to hear this, it just goes to show when it's your time it's your time and there is no escaping death. I feel so bad for the entire family. They are in my prayers.

  • headlong Oct 21, 2010

    Thoughts and Prayers for the Family!!!

    When I heard the first story about the Van I thought WOW she is lucky...then hearing she was found dead made me wonder if someone had it out for her...BUT dang bologna sandwich. It is really sad!!!

    Poor Dad is going to need all the extra hands he can get!!!

  • peppercorns Oct 21, 2010

    final destination is right...wow.. i am so sorry for this family. I'd sue the heck out of whoever made that sandwich.....at least the kids college can get paid for.

  • snowl Oct 21, 2010

    I did not know about the tape that surrounds the meat. I've never eaten that type of cold cut.
    How sad....and no 911 call? She must not have had time to call for help and was alone with the babies?? Oh dear.

  • just my2cents Oct 21, 2010

    Oh my! What a tragic story. I remember the mini-van story very well. This is very bizarre. My prayers go out to the family, especially those babies.

  • LambeauSouth Oct 21, 2010

    Can you say "Final Destination"
    To Survive a Burning Van, and then die choking on Bologna
    What a Shame

  • csplantlover Oct 21, 2010

    That is a very bizarre happening. You couldn't put any explanation out there for this of course. So sad for all those children to have lost their mother to a baloney sandwich incident. The father will have a hard time with it, I am sure.

  • rcrdngcountry Oct 21, 2010

    very sad

  • FromClayton Oct 21, 2010

    bless that father. he is going to have his hands full.

  • cindy2345 Oct 21, 2010

    So sad!! I was so glad to hear everything went well for this family after the fire on 95. Those beautiful children losing their Mother. Our prayers and thoughts are with the family and freinds. May God lay his hand on everyone.