An act of bravery at a young age made a Bethel student the youngest Medal of Valor recipient in America.
Alexandra Eigen | The Clarion
Brittany Hutchinson flipped through an American Girl Doll magazine on a bouncy bus ride after school on Jan. 27, 2004. An afternoon bus ride to daycare with her friend, Natalie Sindt, was all too familiar to the St. Mary’s of the Lake kindergartner. As James Medin, a bus driver for Rehbein Transit, approached Oak Leaf Drive in Vadnais Heights, the two girls prepared
to get off at their stop. The events that would unfold in the following moments would change Hutchinson’s life and miraculously save another.
“I started to get off the bus, but turned around on the steps because Natalie had dropped all of her magazines. I went to go help her,” Hutchinson recalled. “When we got off, all of the other kids were halfway down the street, so we waited for another signal to cross. Once he signaled us, Natalie and I held hands as we walked in front of the bus. That’s where my memory completely goes out for 20 minutes.”
An overwhelming whirlwind of screams, tears and utter shock engulfed Brittany Hutchinson’s world. Hutchinson had heroically let go of Sindt’s hand with enough time for Sindt to escape the path of the 72-passenger bus.
In seconds, the entire school bus had passed over Hutchinson’s small body while Sindt was left unscathed.
The bus driver stepped off the bus, stood over Hutchinson’s body and without saying a word, returned to the bus and continued on his usual route. Hutchinson’s second grade brother, Alex, ran to the daycare, shouting for someone to dial 9-1-1.
Lights and sirens filled the scene at Oak Leaf Drive as police, fire and rescue and emergency personnel arrived. Brittany’s father, Tim Hutchinson, vividly remembers that frigid, zero-degree January day. Tim was 15 minutes away from the scene of the accident when he received a phone call he would never forget.
“‘Mr. Hutchinson, we regret to inform you that your 5-year-old has been run over by a school bus,’” Tim recited. “It was absolutely the most terrifying phone call I had ever received.”
Tim frantically rushed to the scene unaware of the extent of his daughter’s injuries or the impact of her bravery.
“There was a lot of blood,” he recalled.
Tim, a trained Emergency Medical Technician, rode in the back of the ambulance and held his daughter’s oxygen mask the entire drive to Children’s Hospital in Saint Paul. Brittany was then rushed into a room to be treated for lacerations to the side of her head and forehead with a total of 20 stitches.
One question remained for the brave kindergartner; what would drive a 5-year-old to push another little girl out of the way of a school bus? Brittany Hutchinson’s unforgettable response left doctors, nurses and her family in awe.
“I was just loving her. I was just doing what my Daddy told me to do, and that’s to love everyone,” she replied.
Tim Hutchinson remembers that moment in the Children’s Hospital.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” he said.
Brittany’s awe-inspiring statements that followed her brush with death did not cease. Tim Hutchinson recalls how his daughter explained the moment of the accident.
“As soon as she was knocked down, [she said] she was surrounded by 10 angels. They told her to close her eyes and plug her nose,” Tim said.
Tim was slightly confused by his daughter’s statement, but came to the realization that in plugging her nose, Brittany avoided harmful inhalation of the bus’s diesel burning exhaust. Brittany also spoke of a conversation he had with his daughter in which she explained that the angels said to her, “We will always be upon you.”
Tim Hutchinson then asked his daughter what those angels looked liked, and to which she replied, “Some were black, some were white, and some looked like they were from China. They looked like all the people of the world.”
When the Hutchinson family learned of bus driver James Medin’s decision to flee the scene rather than help his injured daughter, infuriation ensued.
“Panic usually drives us to help people, not run away from them,” Tim said.
The Hutchinson attended each court hearing. However, when Medin was given the opportunity by a judge to reconcile with the Hutchinson family, he refused to apologize for his actions. Medin was never charged for his involvement in the accident.
As the White Bear Lake township began to receive word of the extraordinary little girl, media outlets became infatuated with Brittany’s bravery.
“The media descended on our home. It got to where the front door stayed open,” Tim said.
In the weeks after the accident, the Hutchinson’s received a call from Ramsey County undersheriff, Mark Petit, in regards to Brittany’s heroism. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s department showed interest in honoring Brittany. A ceremony was planned to take place at St. Mary’s of the Lake Church on Feb. 13, 2004.
“330 kids attended Brittany’s school at the time, and all of them marched over to the church. Parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles, friends, media, sheriffs, the mayor of Vadnais Heights, firemen and council people attended,” Tim said. “This was a big event. 500 people in attendance.”
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher recognized Brittany and awarded her with a Medal of Valor at the ceremony in front of her closest family and friends.
“I had no idea what kind of award they were going to give her,” Tim said. “That’s really something, not just a certificate you print off of the computer. That’s a very high honor.”
Tim did some investigating after Brittany was awarded. Brittany was in fact the youngest Medal of Valor recipient in America.
Now 17 years old and a PSEO student at Bethel, Hutchinson’s kind, humble demeanor shines through in all she does. At times she still reflects on that moment over 12 years ago when a little girl did the extraordinary.
“I go back to that and think, am I still the same loving person?” Brittany said. “And if I’m not, what can I change?”