It was instinct.
Donna Hansen, 22, snatched her daughter out of the car seat and turned away. In that same instant came the horrible crunch, pop and shower of windshield glass.
By some miracle, Hansen still stood on the Fifth Street curb, cradling Dalilah. Gone was her Mercury Mountaineer — a speeding SUV had plowed it into the neighbor’s yard.
“She almost killed my daughter,” Hansen said of the driver, Jessica Ricci, 25.
Ricci was later charged with operating a vehicle under the influence, two counts of failure to control and leaving the scene of an accident.
At about 9:45 p.m. Monday, Hansen was getting ready to leave her mother’s house in the 1200 block of Fifth Street. She sat her daughter, Dalilah Shepherd, 2, in the back passenger seat and was about to put a diaper bag down when her peripheral vision caught some movement.
Hansen said she looked over and saw a Chevy Trailblazer aimed directly at her vehicle.
“I saw the lights and grabbed Dalilah and turned,” she said. “I felt everything behind me.”
“My whole back got sprayed with glass ... there was glass in my hair, sweatshirt, pants, socks,” she said.
Hansen said she stood there for a few seconds, unable to comprehend what had just happened.
The driver of the mangled Trailblazer, meanwhile, continued spinning the vehicle’s tires in an attempt to break free from the Mountaineer.
Seconds later she succeeded, but not before one of Hansen’s friends jotted down the license plate.
Hansen snapped to and called police, only to find she couldn’t speak.
“I’ve never been so scared,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe.”
The Trailblazer blundered along for eight blocks before it crashed into another car at the corner of Reese and Warren streets.
When police arrived, Ricci was still sitting in the driver’s seat, a police report said.
In the end, no one was injured.
But Hansen is haunted by “what if.”
“My daughter was less than a second away from being killed, and (Ricci) gets off with a DUI and failure to control?” Hansen said. “That’s just not enough.”
Hansen said she always places her daughter into the SUV by way of the driver’s side, but for some reason she went to the passenger side Monday.
Had Hansen kept with her habit, it wouldn’t have mattered that she grabbed her daughter. The Mountaineer would’ve plowed right over them, she said.
“I lost my father back in ’94,” she said. “I know he was guarding us at that moment.”
For her part, Dalilah now has a story she tells everyone she sees.
“Our car is broken,” the girl said. “It’s terrible.”