Six DeRidder family members and two dogs are alive today because of one brave 11-year-old boy.

Six DeRidder family members and two dogs are alive today because of one brave 11-year-old boy.

A group of six relatives were driving back to DeRidder, last Sunday, from a family reunion in Fort Worth, TX. They were navigating through very heavy rain, when they hydroplaned, and landed upside-down in a ravine filled with flood water.

The driver, Jamie Hillman, 25, had pulled over two or three times, attempting to wait out the rain, she said. In tow, she had her two children, Keithen Hillman, 6, and Zaydin Howell, 2, as well as Nephew Conner Hillman, 11, Great Aunt Melba Cagle, Grandma June Hillman, and two canine family members-- Rosco, a Boston Terrier/Shih Tzu mix, and Gracee, a Pekingese.

"The wind was like tornado weather. All of the sudden the back end slid out from underneath me and I lost control," said Jamie. She choked up as she thought back to the terror of the event, and what could have been.

The 2003 Ford Expedition was not visible from the road, due to very tall grasses between the road and the ravine where they landed. "The accident happened around 4 p.m. in Lufkin [Texas], on the loop, almost near [Highway] 190," said Aunt Melba.

When the Expedition landed, it began sinking and filling up with water. Jamie recalled that Conner said, "Is this a dream? Are we going to drown?" She attempted, to no avail, to break out windows so the family could escape the vehicle. At that time, the front end of the Expedition was already in deep water, she said.

Meanwhile, Conner and Zaydin were seated in the third row, when Conner noticed the back window was broken. He remembered thinking, "That's the way out to get help." He crawled out, on top of the truck, and jumped down, he said.

Conner ran up to the road and found a man in a vehicle, who must have pulled over just after their accident, to wait out the rain. "He got out of his car when he saw me coming, and I told him we needed help," said Conner.

This man, whose name the family does not know, immediately, sprung to action. He pulled everyone out of the vehicle, unharmed.

Aunt Melba said she put Zaydin and the dogs through the window before she was willing to get out herself.

There was a lot of concern about Keithen because of his special needs. He has cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus-- a condition in which the primary characteristic is excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. He recently underwent surgery to implant a ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt into his brain, which treats the hydrocephalus. This device relieves pressure on the brain caused by the accumulation of fluid.

Keithen is non-verbal, and non-mobile, making it very important that someone could assist him, entirely, in getting out of the sinking vehicle.

In the accident, Keithen's nebulizer and suction machine were lost. His medications have been recovered because they were inside of a sealed plastic bag.

Grandma June said, at one point, she was upside-down and Zaydin's head had been underwater for quite some time. "He was kind of in shock afterwards," said Jamie. "We all were."

"Several cars pulled over after the wreck, and other people were helping us until the cops came," said Grandma June.

Everyone, including the dogs, were taken to the Woodland Heights Medical Center in Lufkin. "They were really good," said Aunt Melba.

The whole family walked away from the accident physically unharmed. The wreck itself wasn't horrible, in terms of physical harm, but it was mentally traumatic, Jamie said.

Conner was relieved to see his family being pulled out of the car, he said. "I said thank you to the man who helped us."

Grandma June pointed out that during this situation, Conner did not scream or panic. He was calm and did exactly what he needed to do to get help.

The family discovered, after the incident that, had the vehicle moved three more feet, it would have fallen over an eight-foot drop. Also, two poisonous water snakes were found inside the Expedition when it was retrieved. "We weren't even thinking about the possibility of water snakes when we were trapped in the car," said Jamie.

Only one tire was visible at the time the Expedition was pulled from the ravine; the rest of the vehicle was submerged in water.

To prevent similar situations, Jamie feels it is very important for people to keep proper emergency equipment in the car. "Something, where it can be found at all times, to bust out car windows, and cut seat belts; maybe even a flashlight. These items can easily be found on Amazon," she said.

The family is still working on obtaining new cell phones, tablets, and purses, among many other lost items, including Keithen's much-needed equipment. The vehicle only had liability insurance, and Jamie has not yet obtained a new vehicle.

"[The accident] brought us closer and we realize that anything can happen to anyone at anytime," said Jamie. "I think we all appreciate life a lot more."