‘God was watching me’: Lone survivor shares photos and recounts fiery, deadly I-12 crash

Photo courtesy Louisiana State Police
Photo courtesy Louisiana State Police(KALB)
Published: Sep. 16, 2019 at 3:12 PM CDT
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Leanna McCrea says being alive is “more than enough” after she was involved in a deadly crash on I-12.

A fiery, multi-vehicle crash on Friday, Sept. 13 on I-12 near the Livingston and Tangipahoa parish lines claimed the lives of two people.

Photos posted by McCrea show the extent of damage to her vehicle and one of the 18-wheelers involved. The second 18-wheeler was reduced to debris.

“I don’t know what to say right now,” she said in a Facebook post. “But I’m alive. And that’s more than enough right now.”

The images depict McCrea’s torched, crushed, and partially melted SUV, which could be seen laying upside down on I-12 just feet in front of a fireball that could be seen for miles and resulted in I-12 being shut down for hours as crews worked through the wreckage.

One of the more awe-inspiring images shows her child’s car seat, seemingly unscathed among the destruction. McCrea says her child was not in the car at the time of the crash.

McCrea suffered moderate injuries, and in the days after, said she’s banged up, sore, and “emotionally a hot mess,” but thankful she was spared.

McCrea believes the first 18-wheeler had a blowout as she was passing it.

“He swerved right like he was getting off [the interstate], then over-corrected and swerved left into my lane,” McCrea recalls.

State Police say the 18-wheeler hit McCrea’s Toyota, which caused both vehicles to cross the median and enter the eastbound side of the interstate.

“There was nothing I could do to avoid it," she said.

The 18-wheeler then hit a second 18-wheeler head-on and all three vehicles caught fire. McCrea says in the moments immediately after the crash, she called 911 and attempted to give first responders her approximate location.

“I was hanging upside down, trying to stay calm,” she said. “I think I passed out at that point because the next thing I remember was a sound, like gunshots, with little bursts of light. It was hard to tell because my airbags had deployed and I was kind of in a little bubble. I thought it was emergency flares.”

McCrase later learned that one of the 18-wheelers was hauling bottles of acetone that turned into little bombs once the fire reached them. McCrea says first responders had a difficult time getting to her because of the intense heat.

“All I could hear was chaos outside my car. Couldn’t tell what I was hearing. When I realized that everything was feeling hot, [I knew] something worse was wrong,” McCrea said.

She unbuckled herself and crawled out of the wreckage to a horrific scene of twisted steel and flames.

“It really just looked like the whole world was on fire,” she said. “There was so much smoke, fire, and I just couldn’t process. Everything is crystal clear up to the point I realized things were on fire. I was calm and handled everything ok until I realized everything was on fire. I just started screaming.”

McCrea says first responders grabbed her and pulled her back across the median to safety.

McCrea says she will carry the sights, sounds, and emotions from that day with her for the rest of her life.

“This is something that will haunt me for a while,” McCrea says. “The sounds, the feeling of flipping, watching the first truck flip, seeing traffic heading straight at me and not being able to do anything about it, seeing and feeling that fire so hot, and just the weight of knowing that two men lost their lives and I went home that same night.”

“God was watching me,” McCrea said. “I’m blessed to literally crawl out of that wreck all on my own.”

McCrea suffered a concussion and possible minor facial fractures.

Minutes after she arrived at the hospital, McCrea was handed a letter by the fiancee of one of the first responders:

"We may never meet again, but I was the firefighter that was there to catch you as you fell and was there when you woke up on the ground. Today I was the witness to the miracle of your survival. There is no doubt that God spared your life for a reason. It is your charge from now on to seek out that purpose. A purpose that can only be found by drawing closer and closer still to God. Rest easy knowing that you are loved, cared, and prayed for. P.S. Sorry about your purse!"

A project to install cable barriers along the notoriously dangerous stretch of I-12 went to bid in June.

“I think something needs to be done to make I-12 safer,” McCrea says. “I don’t know what the answer is, that’s up to engineers, but people have to stop dying.”

Four Mississippi residents died in April along the same portion of the interstate when a driver crossed the median into oncoming traffic.

McCrea says she’s thankful that her son wasn’t in the car at the time of the crash, but that car seat safety is critical.

“I hear people say ‘I’m a safe driver, I’m not going far, he/she doesn’t like the car seat,'” McCrea said. “I’m a safe driver, too, and there was nothing I could do to prevent going into oncoming traffic. Some things are just out of our control."

Child Passenger Safety Week starts September 17. There are a number of events across the state where parents can get their car seats inspected and learn the do’s and don’ts of restraining children in vehicles. McCrea says the information is invaluable.

“[Your child] is going to cry so much if they’re badly injured in a wreck, or sadder still, isn’t alive to cry,” McCrea said. “He will get used to the seat, but he is irreplaceable.”

The identities of the two truck drivers have not been released yet.

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