DeSandra Thomas was texting police, trying to get help after her father crashed their car, when she was struck and killed crossing the highway early Sunday morning, Michigan authorities said. She was 7 years old.
The little girl's father had been allegedly driving under the influence around 3:30 a.m. when he swerved off the I-94 in Detroit, crashed into an abandoned car, and shot through some fencing, Michigan State Police said Monday. He sustained a head injury and is still in the hospital, according to authorities.
Believing her father had died, DeSandra grabbed her backpack and a cellphone, and climbed over the mangled fence blocking, setting off to get help, Lt. Mike Shaw said on Twitter.
While wandering down the highway, the 7-year-old messaged with a 911 dispatcher from the Romulus Police Department, who was trying to "keep her in the same safe spot so help could get there," Shaw said.
"Unfortunately she was struck before we were able to locate her," he added.
Shortly after the accident, Michigan State Police got a call from a woman who said she thought she had hit a pedestrian but did not see anyone, the department said. Troopers checked her car but could not find any evidence that she had struck someone, nor were they able to find a person or animal nearby.
Authorities later learned that Romulus police were investigating a drunk driving crash and had been texting with a girl who had been in the car and was trying to get help. After pinging and tracking the cellphone, they eventually found the 7-year-old in the median of the highway.
She had died instantly, Michigan State Police said.
"This is a very sad case and something we talk about all the time. The horrible effects of driving impaired," Shaw said. "Here's a 7-year-old girl who is not going to go to prom. She's not going to graduate high school, go to college, have kids, have a career."
Police are investigating the initial drunk driving crash while Michigan State authorities are handling the probe into DeSandra's fatal accident.
As of Monday afternoon, the girl's father remained in the hospital and is being treated for "some type of head trauma," Shaw said on Twitter, adding that officials do not expect an arraignment in the case this week.
DeSandra was about to enter the third grade and loved gymnastics and going shopping, her mother, Sandria Burts, told BuzzFeed News Monday night, describing her daughter as a "beautiful and selfless angel" who was mature far beyond her years.
"She was taking care of others since she could walk," her mother said.
Speaking to Fox News 2, Burts called the loss of her daughter "a void that will never be filled."
"Anybody that she touched she was a blessing to them," she told the station, adding that she had tried to have children for 20 years before finally getting pregnant with DeSandra. "It’s straight emptiness. We are in shock but I know God is good and he is the only one that’s going to be able to bring me and my family through this."
Burts said she was at work when she got a call informing her that DeSandra had died trying to find help after her ex-husband crashed a car while allegedly drinking and driving.
Her husband, Anthony Burts, set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for DeSandra's funeral expenses, calling her a "hero."
"At such a tender age she was selfless. She didn't care about herself, she was racing against time to save her father as anyone with a heart of gold would have," he wrote. "Fly high baby girl."