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'We were there by chance and the grace of God'



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September 25, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- A retired teacher and off-duty firefighter gave new meaning to roadside assistance on Monday.

Kathy Brissette was on her way to the bank shortly before 10:30 a.m. Sept. 23 when she realized she had taken a wrong turn on to Hadley Road. As she was about to turn around, she saw a little girl and a woman on the side of the road.

"She looked desperate," said Brissette, a former Brandon Middle School teacher who believes it was serendipitous that she made the turn on to Hadley Road, rather than Hummer Lake Road as she had intended. "We were there by chance and the grace of God."

The woman, Esperanza Galvan-Deherandez, was in fact desperate, but unable to speak English, she couldn't communicate her distress effectively.

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Meanwhile, drama was unfolding inside the home in the 300 block of S. Hadley Road where she had been caring for her granddaughters, but became locked out when she went to the garage to get ice cream for them.

In Spanish, she asked to use Brissette's cell phone, but the call she Brissette's cell phone, but the call she made went directly to voicemail. Galvan-Deherandez continued to try to express what she needed, and Brissette discerned that possibly a break-in was in progress at the home.

As she called 9-1-1, Gregg Woodbury rounded a corner and came across Brissette's vehicle in the middle of the roadway.

Woodbury is a retired police officer, owns a private investigation and security company and is also an on-call firefighter for the township. He was simply on his way to the post office when he would join Brissette in becoming a hero.

"I hadn't even parked and they were running back to the house and the grandma was screaming, 'Baby! Baby! Baby!'" recalled Woodbury, who scrambled out of his vehicle and ran to the window where the grandmother was pointing inside.

He and Brissette were horrified at what they saw—a small child with her head trapped in a stair bannister, hanging above the floor. The 1-year-old girl, Areceli Hernandez, was screaming, but suddenly went still and quiet.

"Oh my heavens," said Brissette, remembering the scene. "It was terrifying. There was an adrenaline rush that kicks in. I just knew we needed to get in there. She was screaming. When she stopped the screaming, that was when I was very scared. I thought, 'good Lord.' I looked for something to throw through the window."

Woodbury ran to the side door and forced entry into the house.

"By the time I came through the door, the baby was back up standing, she had freed herself from the bannister," he recalled. "She was crying and scared, but no injuries. I did what any of us would have done in that situation."

Jesus Hernandez, the baby's father, isn't so sure that is what would have happened with other passersby who came across a woman whom they didn't know and who couldn't speak their language.

"You guys are different," he said Tuesday as he met them at his home, where he plans to fix the approximately 4-inch gap between banisters to prevent such an accident from occurring again. "You are heroes."

His wife, who shares the same name as their daughter, Areceli Hernandez, agreed.

"I am just so grateful, I want to thank them so much," she said. "It would have been a much different story if they weren't in the right place at the right time."

Esperanza struggled to find words as she spoke in Spanish to Brissette and Woodbury and Jesus Hernandez interpreted.

"She has no words to express her appreciation and she thanks them for helping her even though they didn't know anyone here," he said, then directly translated, "Thank you from my heart."

As the grandmother spoke, tears spilled from her eyes and her voice broke. As she finished, she stepped forward to her heroes for an embrace — a gesture that is universally understood.

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