NEWARK, N.J. – As the pickup truck she was riding in careened down the road at 80 mph, 12-year-old Miranda Bowman knew one thing: She had to stop it.
Miranda's grandfather, Paul Parker, was driving her home Tuesday from an afternoon of go-karting when he told Miranda he didn't feel well. He asked her to keep talking to keep him alert. She asked about things she spied on the side of the road — the racetrack, the unfinished bleachers. A few seconds later Miranda heard her grandfather's head hit the driver's side window.
Parker, 63, had just died of a heart attack, and his foot was pressing on the accelerator.
"He was like, 'Miranda I'm scared, I've never felt like this before,'" Miranda said during a phone interview from her Burlington Township home. "I was scared because he would never say that. He was a tough cookie."
After a "30-second freak-out" during which she cried, "Pop-pop, Pop-pop, Pop-pop," Miranda realized the car was speeding up and drifting toward the side of the road. She undid her seat belt and tried to call 911 on her cellphone but she wasn't getting any service. She then climbed underneath the steering wheel and pressed her hand on the brake.
But even though the car was slowing down, it was still hurtling down the road.
Miranda popped up from underneath the steering wheel, wedged her right foot under her left and pressed on the brake as hard as she could.
"I was going to put it in park and I thought we were going too fast," she said. "I thought it would do the fish tail or flip over."
Instead she grabbed onto the steering wheel and tried to find a place where she could force the car to stop.
"I was looking around and thought, "Should I go into the corn field, should I keep going?'" she said. "Down the street was a red light and I saw woods. I said I can't hurt anybody else, I can only hurt myself,'" by putting the car into trees, she said.
Miranda said the pickup truck ran into a few trees. She tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. She wasn't able to smash out the window. She finally spied a broken part of the passenger's side door and kicked it open.
A woman driving behind the car saw it swerving and called 911 while following it. Miranda said she fell to her knees and wailed after getting out of the car. She then called her mother and grandmother.
"She said, 'Mom, we were in an accident and Pop-pop is dead,'" said Miranda's mother, Stephanie Bowman. "I keep thinking to myself, 'I don't know if I could have watched that happen to him and reacted the way she did.'"
Stephanie Bowman said the family is in shock from all that happened. Paul Parker was an active man who played fast-pitch baseball and started go-karting in his 60s. It was the first time Miranda watched her grandfather go-kart; she had long asked him to take her to the track.
"I'm very grateful to have my daughter be OK but losing my father at the same time, I'm just numb from the two emotions battling each other out," Stephanie Bowman said.
Miranda said she knew how to react in an emergency situation because her father is an EMT. She also said she watches a lot of "Law and Order" on television and thought about what might happen on the show. And she always watches what people do while driving a car, so she knew to head for the brake.
Miranda said she wants to be a sign language interpreter when she is an adult.
"I'm very amazed by her, very impressed by her," Stephanie Bowman said. "Where she got it from God only knows. He was her angel that day."