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November 25, 2004

Student's cool under fire earns honors

From: Knoxville News Sentinel - Knoxville,TN,USA - Nov 25, 2004

November 25, 2004

Maybe it was the July car accident in Cookeville that killed Brittany Jones' boyfriend and also broke her back and neck.

Whatever it was, Brittany knew to stay calm just four months later as the van in which she was riding with five others in South Knoxville went out of control, flipped several times and then smashed into a utility pole.

Although injured with a broken arm, Brittany, 16, a Tennessee School for the Deaf junior, managed to communicate with rescue workers about what happened.

"Without her help, the firefighters would have had a difficult time," said Knoxville Fire Department Capt. Claude Earl on Wednesday.

The van's occupants - two adults and four female students - had to be cut from the wreckage. One of Brittany's classmates would later die as a result of the Nov. 8 accident.

On Wednesday, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam honored Brittany for her courage. In a ceremony held in his City County Building office, Haslam presented her with a plaque and a proclamation.

"Unfortunately tragic things happen, but it's the way we respond to them that says the most about who we are," Haslam told her. "We're all proud of you and thankful for you."

Although hailed as a hero, Brittany said she didn't think she deserved the praise about what she did.

"It's nature," she said. "They're all my friends and I would have put anyone before myself."

But Brittany, who was sporting a cast on her right arm, said she did "feel great and warm inside" at the applause.

TSD Superintendent Alan Mealka said Wednesday the school is still in the healing process. Counselors are on hand to help students with post-traumatic stress, he said.

The girls involved in the accident don't remember much of what happened, he said.

"In many ways, that's a blessing," Mealka said.

Lola Alapo may be reached at 865-342-6376.

Copyright 2004, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.