Toddler who survived I-40 crash helps family move past tragedy

Posted December 1, 2011
Updated December 2, 2011

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— A 22-month-old girl critically injured in a head-on collision on Interstate 40 two weeks ago that killed her parents is back home in Smithfield with her grandparents.

Terri Lynn Reeves, 20, and Joshua James Witherspoon, 22, died Nov. 17 when their eastbound 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse crossed the I-40 median near the N.C. Highway 42 interchange near Clayton and hit a westbound 2005 BMW X5 SUV and 2005 Lexus.

Their daughter, Shelby Faith Witherspoon, was trapped in her car seat in the back of the Mitsubishi for 20 to 30 minutes and was later hospitalized with a skull fracture. She returned home Wednesday.

"She had a really bad place on the side of her head, and her face and her eye were really bad and swollen," her grandmother, Bonnie Reeves, said Thursday.

Now, a few scratches and a sore right leg are the only signs Shelby was even in the wreck.

"I just don't know what protected her," Reeves said. "The passenger seat, from what I understand broke and fell back on her, and I believe maybe the seat covered her. Or there was an angel covering her – somebody was with her."

Reeves said she's convinced the car seat saved her life. When the family replaced the car seat, they bought the same Evenflo Abigail model for her.

Bonnie Reeves with Shelby Witherspoon Family convinced car seat saved girl in fatal wreck

First Sgt. Jeff Gordon, spokesman for the State Highway Patrol, said investigators haven't been able to determine the cause of the wreck. Troopers ruled out alcohol and excessive speeds as possible factors, and they also dismissed the possibility of a blown tire causing Terri Reeves to lose control of the car.

Reeves' brother said that he feared a temporary spare tire on the Mitsubishi had blown out, but troopers said all four tires on the car were intact and inflated.

Having Shelby back home is helping both the Reeves and Witherspoon families move on from the tragedy, Bonnie Reeves said.

"It's like I wake up for her every morning. If she wasn't here, I don't why I would wake up," she said. "I see both of (her parents) in her every day. I mean, she's got Terri's curly hair, and she's got Josh's pretty eyes. She's just like both of them."

Doctors have told Reeves that Shelby won't remember the wreck because she is so young, but Reeves said the girl occasionally asks for her mother and father. She said she doesn't know how the family will explain their deaths to her.

"We'll have to eventually. She'll understand that her mama and daddy (are) not here," Reeves said.


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  • hmmmmm Dec 2, 2011

    I had to tell my 2.5 yr old why DaDa didn't come home when he was killed in a car wreck. It's harder than you can fathom. There's no right or wrong way to do it. A child so young is harder, because of communication barriers & they are struggling to understand where Mommy/Daddy went. My son would run to the phone, pick it up & say DaDa? DaDa? That was heartbreaking. It took me a week of witnessing this devastating routine several times a day, before I could think of a way to tell him what happened (and he hadn't been hospitalized, like this little girl). The advice I can give to this child's family is to have some quiet snuggle time, ask her if she's wondering where Mommy & Daddy went. When she says yes, very gently explain to her that Mommy & Daddy got broken in the car accident, & the doctors couldn't fix the booboo, so they had to go to Heaven where God could make them better again. Then tell her they have to stay in Heaven, so the booboo's don't come back. But they love her forever.

  • sophiemom Dec 2, 2011

    Pretty little girl-- I don't think she will remember this.\

  • ctnorris2011 Dec 2, 2011

    How sad....may God bless these families and may God keep his hand upon this precious little ones life.

  • junior40010 Dec 2, 2011

    god BLESS

  • FromClayton Dec 2, 2011

    awwwww. I've been praying for you precious little one. I'm so sorry you lost your parents and your unborn little sister or brother. I wish you a beautiful life and pray for the two families that step in and raise you while keeping the memory of your mommy and daddy.

  • lakeyk1 Dec 2, 2011

    So happy and thankful that little Shelby survived this horrible accident and had family to come home to.Family that loves and will care for her.While Shelby also helps the grieving parents with the loss of their children,I am sure she misses her parents and questions where they are and why she is not seeing them in her day to day life.Little children have questions just as we adults and notice things of change.God Bless little Shelby,the Reeves and Witherspoon families. lakeyk1

  • mmtlash Dec 2, 2011

    aww cute kid

  • mlong Dec 2, 2011

    Bless her little heart. Thank God and the Angels for protecting her and bringing her back home. My heart oges out to her and the parents of her mam and daddy. I know this is the worse tragedy that could happen to a family. I am so thankful that the baby came out of it and the grandparents from both sides still have her and know everytime they look at her they do see a part of thier own children in her. She is a special blessing to all I know. I know it will be very hard one day to explain this to her but with all the love she will have she will survive this. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU and Little SHELBY.

  • gswalker51 Dec 2, 2011

    I-40 is a deathtrap. I have to drive it twice a day between Garner and Morrisville. Never seen such horrible drivers in my life. Stuff flying off trucks, vehicles without working brake lights, no signals, no tags. Got hit from behind 3 times back in 2009...police officer told me 25% of the drivers on the road in NC don't have insurance or a license.

  • n ter tained Dec 2, 2011

    "so sad she lost her parent's I dont know the baby or the horrible, horrible woman that has her.."

    So if you don't know the horrible horrible, how can you say that she is? Geez, people...get a life.