N.S. girl earns bravery award for saving family from van that plunged into river

HALIFAX — Six-year-old Sophia Grace LeBlanc and two siblings were in a van driven by their mother in November 2018 when the vehicle left the highway near Little River, N.S., and plunged into a river, landing on its roof.

Sophia’s two-year-old sister Elise and four-year-old brother Ethan were trapped in the upside-down vehicle.

With her little brother unconscious and her mother, Candice Hicks, badly injured, Sophia freed her sister from her seatbelt and helped her escape the van. She then climbed the embankment to flag down another motorist for help.

On Wednesday, Sophia, who recently turned eight, became the youngest Nova Scotian ever to receive a provincial medal of bravery.

After the ceremony at the provincial legislature, Sophia was asked what she thought about receiving the award.

“It’s cool,” the blue-eyed girl from Amherst, N.S., said in a quiet voice. “I’m going to put it in my room where I can always see it.”

As for what happened the day the van flipped into the river, Sophia was reluctant to talk about the crash.

“I saved my family,” she said, clutching the blue box holding the medal.

“It was hard to get my little sister, but I got her out. But I couldn’t get my brother out …. I climbed on my mother’s back to get onto the rocks, and then I climbed up (the embankment).”

A neighbour who witnessed the Nov. 11, 2018 crash used a knife to cut Ethan’s seatbelt and free him from the wreckage.

The children were treated for cuts and bruises, while their mother needed surgery to repair her arm.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Sophia showed incredible bravery.

“Sophia, we’re really proud that you’re here,” the premier told the ceremony. “What an extraordinary demonstration of courage you showed when you made sure that not only was your younger brother and sister (safe) — you went and got help for your family.”

Sophia was one of two people to be honoured Wednesday.

Elijah Joseph Watts, a young lobster fisherman from Port Hood, N.S., was awarded the medal of bravery for his role in trying to rescue his father and another fisherman when their boat, the Ocean Star, capsized in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the morning of May 12 2018.

All three men were thrown into the cold, rough water.

Watts, who was 18 at the time, tried to save the other two men, but they did not survive.

“I know your journey has been a difficult one,” the premier said.

“I want you to know that we in this room and across this province recognize that the journey to healing can be tough. But allowing us to recognize you …. is really a positive step forward.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Watts declined to speak to reporters.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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