Melissa Smith is thankful to be alive after being trapped in the car with her son and their dog after strong storms whipped through the Southside Monday, causing a tree to fall on their car.
"I could only see his feet," Smith said of her 8-year-old son, Caleb. "My head was facing the driver side door. And I just kept talking to him: 'Tell me you are OK. Tell me what hurts. Talk to me.'"
The tree fell on their car about 4:40 p.m. just after they pulled into their driveway on Ruby Drive East. Amazingly, they got out with only a few bumps and scratches.
The large oak tree fell onto a power line, then crashed into another tree that was in Smith's yard, and then its massive trunk fell onto their sedan.
The tree narrowly missed the family inside, and they said it's thanks to a team of guardian angels.
"I kept touching his leg and saying, 'Mom is OK. I'm not hurt. Are you hurt?'" Smith said. "I grabbed his leg one time and said, 'Let's thank Jesus for taking care of us.' He cried for a few minutes just because he was scared. But after that he was so brave."
A Jacksonville Fire and Rescue lieutenant captured the tense moments on video as nearly 50 rescuers worked to free the family using five chainsaws. First, they grabbed the boy, then were able to get the dog out. And finally they were able to get Smith out of the car and onto a stretcher.
Smith and Caleb went to the hospital, but only with minor injuries.
"I really haven't come back down to reality yet. I have been trying to process it," Smith said. "I am just blessed to be alive. And my son is alive and I can stand here and talk to you today."
District Chief Roger Lewis, who led the rescue efforts, said when he pulled up on the scene, he thought it was going to be worse than it was.
"I would consider this a rare one," Lewis said. "We were all surprised when we heard voices inside there. When we knew we had a viable rescue situation that was going on because it looked, as you well know, a whole lot worse than it really was."
A day later, Smith said she owes her life to the men and women of the Fire Department.
"We are really thankful for them, very thankful," she said. "We could have been a lot worse."
Neighbors in the area had tree trimmers out Tuesday to cut down limbs in hopes of preventing something like this from happening again.