Water filled the submerged vehicle but 10-year-old Gabriella Chernysh would not let go of her book.
Not as her 14-year-old sister Isabel punched the glass window to make their escape. Not when Isabel grabbed Gabriella and pulled her through to safety. Not even as emergency crews arrived on scene to treat their mother Rachael, who was still trapped inside the family car following a June crash into the canal at Cougar Drive and Airport-Pulling Road North.
The family survived with only minor injuries, thanks to Isabel’s bravery. The Barron Collier High School teen was recognized for her heroic actions during a Collier County Sheriff ’s Office awards ceremony September 10.
But Gabriella’s book, the sixth in the Harry Potter series, was ruined. Water curled its pages and debris from the canal muddied its cover. Cpl. Tania Wrobleski remembered how fiercely Gabriella clung to the book, and how scared but brave the girls were, jarred as they were by the crash and worried for their mother’s wellbeing.
“They had their mother’s blood on their clothing and every time they looked at her they started to cry,” Cpl. Wrobleski said.
Cpl. Wrobleski continued to talk to the girls, getting the full story of what happened and keeping them occupied as the crash scene was processed.
“Gabby’s seat belt got stuck in her car seat,” Isabel recalled.
Cpl. Wrobleski also learned that the girls had lost an iPhone and about $300 worth of other books in the crash.
At one point Gabriella turned to her old sister, realizing what she had done.
“You were so heroic,” she told Isabel. “You saved my life.”
At the ceremony, more than two months after the crash, Cpl.Wrobleski presented Gabriella with a new copy of her beloved book, a Harry Potter throw and $300 worth of gift cards to Target and Barnes & Noble to replace the books and other personal items lost in the crash.
“I’m not going to be able to get that blanket out of her hands,” their mother Rachael said.
Cpl. Wrobleski reached out to the businesses after nominating Isabel for the Sheriff Appreciation Award. Target and Barnes & Noble were eager to chip in, offering a small silver lining to a terrifying experience.
Rachael said she’s happy that her daughters will be able to look back on the experience in a more positive light after the awards ceremony and the gift, and she said she was thankful to Cpl.Wrobleski for her handling of the situation.
Cpl. Wrobleski said she was honored to help.
“They were so brave and awesome, and I don’t think they realize how much they’ve impacted me,” Cpl. Wrobleski said, hugging the sisters after the ceremony. “They are such good girls.”