The 1999 Toyota Corolla being driven by Chynna Blaney was destroyed in a collision with a large pickup Thursday evening, and the impact ripped off the rear quarter of the car, dislodging the infant seat that Blaney's 6-month-old was using.
By David Hench
Still shaking, Angie Horler stared at the wreckage of the car she had just collided with in her pickup truck, and saw no movement inside.
Horrified, she noticed an infant's car seat on the ground in front of her.
"When I first saw the car seat I thought I had killed a baby," Horler recalled the day after Thursday's crash in Raymond. "I was completely devastated, even though there was nothing I could do to avoid it."
As motorists pulled over to check on the driver of the demolished car, Horler heard something faint, like noise from a car radio. She was the only one who heard it, she said.
"I kept hearing this crying sound," she said, "like a baby, but it sounded so distant. I just ran toward a big snowbank thinking, 'Oh my God, there must be a baby somewhere.'"
She followed the sound. At the bottom of the snowbank's far side, she saw a dark splotch on the snow.
Gabriel Blaney, just 6 months old, had been ejected from his car seat, soared 25 feet and landed on his side in soft snow in a small stand of trees -- and survived.
The hood of his dark blue fleece snowsuit was pulled back, and his face was partially pressed into the snow.
Horler gathered him up and returned to the crash scene, where his mother, Chynna Blaney, 19, had been frantically looking for him.
Injured, with blood on her face, Blaney screamed when she saw her son in Horler's arms, then passed Horler a blanket to keep the baby warm against the night's frigid air.
Blaney then acquiesced to bystanders, who were concerned about her condition, and sat down to wait for rescue workers.
A couple let Horler get in their vehicle with the baby and her own two sons to keep warm and wait for an ambulance.
"I kept it as still as I could," Horler said, as she waited about 10 minutes for rescue vehicles to arrive from the other side of town. "The baby was crying the whole time, which everybody said was a good thing."
Chynna Blaney had been driving her 1999 Toyota Corolla east on Ledgehill Road in Raymond, a route she rarely took. She told police that she was avoiding tolls on the Maine Turnpike, which increased Nov. 1.
Shortly before 5 p.m., she was fiddling with the volume on her GPS unit and didn't see the stop sign at the intersection with North Raymond Road, said Capt. Don Goulet of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.
Horler, 35, of New Gloucester, was driving south in a 2003 Ford F-150 pickup truck, having just picked up her sons, ages 2 and 5, at preschool.
She saw the Toyota at the last instant but couldn't avoid the crash, she said.
The impact crushed the front of the pickup and tore the rear driver's side off the Toyota.
The car seat, which investigators say was properly secured, facing backward in the center of the back seat, was ripped free, still attached to the remains of the seat belt.
Investigators say the impact may have whipped the car seat around with such force that Gabriel was thrown out of it.
The child was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he remained in serious condition Friday with a skull fracture.
Though no other information was available, authorities said a baby's skull bones aren't fully formed, so a fracture can be less serious than for an adult.
"Generally speaking, kids are much more resilient than adults," said Nathan Mick, director of pediatric emergency medicine at Maine Medical Center. "That being said, any time you have an injury with enough force to cause a skull fracture or fracture a bone, that's significant no matter what age you are."
Any skull fracture leads doctors to explore whether there is deeper injury to the brain, Mick said.
Chynna Blaney was released from the hospital Friday. Authorities plan to cite her for failing to stop at a stop sign and being a distracted driver.
Horler was taken to Mercy Hospital and released; her sons were uninjured.
Officials were stunned by the baby's good fortune and by Horler's ability to find him, right after a harrowing crash.
"She literally saved that baby," said Raymond Deputy Fire Chief Craig Messinger, who was off-duty and came upon the scene moments after the crash. "It would have been a lengthy amount of time for us to have found that child had she not heard him crying."
Messinger searched the back of the car for a baby, and wasn't optimistic about any chances of survival.
"I have seen car seats ejected from a motor vehicle with children in them. I have never seen a kid come flying out of one. That's a first for me in 28 years of doing this," said Messinger, who also is a full-time Portland firefighter.
Goulet is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to examine the crash to shed light on why the baby was thrown from the car.
"I'm looking for someone to come in and look, 'Is this a defect? Is this a recall? Was it just a freak of nature?'"
No recalls have been issued for that model of car seat, an Evenflo Symphony.
Goulet said the car seat was brand new, and the harness was intact and still buckled after the crash.
Authorities say they believe that Blaney had Gabriel in his car seat -- it's unlikely that he would have survived otherwise -- but there is no way to tell immediately how effectively he was secured.
Doctors may find scrapes on the boy from the harness straps that could shed light on the situation, Goulet said.
"It just might have been the right set of everything happening which caused the kid to squirt out of it," he said.
Horler said she believes there was more at work than physics and luck.
"I honestly think the hand of God carried this baby from the vehicle and laid it on the snow," she said. "There were many miracles performed last night and many angels surrounding us as we went through this horrible tragedy."
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
The infant car seat in use at the time of a collision in Raymond on Thursday shows how it was still attached to the car's seat belt mechanism after the impact and after a 6-month-old child was thrown from the car and from the seat itself.
This image shows the Ford F-150 truck operated by operated by 35-year-old Angie Horler of New Gloucester. The truck collided with a car driven by 19-year-old Chynna Blaney of Raymond Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013.
Angie Horler, center, is pictured with her two sons, who were both with her when her truck collided with a Toyota Corolla in Raymond on Thursday night. Everyone involved in the violent crash survived.