GALENA, Kan. – An 8-year-old southeast Kansas girl is being hailed for her quick, calm thinking after she grabbed the steering wheel and drove the family's SUV when her mother fell unconscious on their highway ride to school.
Abby Porter and her mom, Shelly, were on Kanas 66 headed to her school in Riverton early Wednesday when Shelly had a medical emergency and passed out behind the wheel, Galena Police Chief Larry Delmont said Thursday.
With her mother slumped over, Abby — a second-grader whose father sometimes lets her steer their tractor and lawn mower — leaned over and took the wheel. Delmont said at some point, Abby even executed a U-turn on the four-lane highway, "because she was going home to her daddy."
"That's at 8:37 in the morning, and there is a lot of traffic, a lot of trucks," Delmont said.
Officer Jimmy Hamilton noticed the SUV going about 20 mph and weaving a bit between the two lanes, and suspected someone was driving under the influence. As he got closer he noticed the woman slumped over in the driver seat and saw Abby at the wheel. The vehicle was also closing in on an intersection.
Hamilton tried to get in front of Abby's car to slow her down, but she kept switching lanes to avoid bumping into his car. Hamilton got alongside her and told Abby to put the vehicle in park, but she didn't know how. He then told her she needed to bump into him to stop the car, but Abby said she didn't want to because she was afraid.
He convinced Abby bumping into his car was OK.
"I never saw her cry," Hamilton said. "It was just the expression on her face and the tone of her voice, you could tell she was scared. But she stayed with it."
Hamilton said he positioned his car in front of the SUV, "and she just steered right into my rear bumper, and I started applying slow pressure on my breaks until both vehicles stopped."
Emergency crews got Abby's mother to the hospital, but Delmont said he didn't know what caused her to lose consciousness.
The police department in Galena, a town of about 3,000 residents about 150 miles south of Kansas City, planned to present Abby with a plaque for "outstanding bravery in a life-threatening situation."
The department also plans to honor Hamilton, Delmont said.
"That officer did a perfect job."