Rachel Elizabeth Delisle, 30, was killed at around 5PM on Saturday, 2/15/14, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at the Highways 258 and 53 intersections, where Burgaw and Richlands Highway meet, when her 2001-2007 Toyota Sequoia was t-boned by a 2006-era Hyundai Sonata driven by Saquan Nelson, 24, with Darius Williams, 16, and Jonathan Cooper, 25, as vehicle passengers. All four adults were killed. The only survivor was Gabriel Delisle, the 6-month-old son of Rachel. Rachel was married to Lt. Jason Deslile, and they had three children together, all boys.
Per police reports, the Sonata was traveling at close to 100 mph in a zone with a 45 mph speed limit. Per witnesses, the vehicle had been weaving through traffic before it entered NC 53 in the wrong lanes. The driver ran a red light and impacted the passenger side of the Sequoia. Both vehicles flew to the other end of the intersection, and the Sonata was split in half by a pole. There was only one survivor: the 6-month-old securely strapped into his car seat, which police credited with saving his life. He received a few bruises and cuts but was otherwise fine.
This is another sad case resulting from speeding, which is implicated in 1 out of every 3 auto deaths in the US. It is also a fatality that resulted from a failure to yield at a red light. It is unclear why Nelson was speeding.
The 2001-era Sequoia weighs ~5100 lbs and does not have any kind of side score from the NHTSA or IIHS. It comes with head and torso side airbags in the front seats. The 2006 Sonata weighs ~3535 lbs and comes with a “good” frontal score.
Given the likely speeds of the collision (100 mph, or 55 mph above the 45 mph PSL), the collision likely imparted at least 1.6MJ of energy into the Sequoia / Sonata. The standard side impact test simulates 143KJ of energy (a 3300-lb sled impacting a vehicle at 31 mph). In other words, the Sequoia faced 1119% of the force it would have experienced in the types of crashes cars are side rated for. Besides that, it didn’t have a side rating, which means it was not designed to adequately protect occupants from the standard simulation. It is sadly understandable that the mother succumbed to these forces. Similarly, the men in the Sonata experienced 625% of the force their vehicle was designed to safely sustain (256KJ), which made their deaths inevitable. In the end, this was a completely needless collision that claimed four lives needlessly.
The part of this story that speaks to me most, however, is the survival of her son. Despite the unimaginably high forces imparted upon the vehicle and the severe degree of structural intrusion visible in the photos above, the child lived. Why?
I’ve written before extensively about the importance of choosing the right car seat and properly restraining children, and this is a textbook example of the advantage properly-restrained children have, even in severe collisions. Gabriel was restrained in a rear-facing car seat, which was both the law for children his age and best practices for children up to at least 4. Properly restrained children can survive crashes that would otherwise be unsurvivable.
This is another sad example of how the rear-facing and properly installed car seat can turn into the orphan seat in a severe collision. Fortunately, Gabriel will still have a father and two siblings to grow up with. It’s a tragedy, however, that his siblings are left without a mother, and his father without his best friend.
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