WIGGINS, Miss. (WLOX) - The community of Stone County is still coping with the loss of 19-year-old Braylon Swanigan, the son of MGCCC wide receiver coach Bam Bryant.
It’s been almost three weeks since the vehicle Braylon and his three siblings were traveling in crashed on Highway 49. For those who arrived at the devastating scene first, it’s been a scene that has played on repeat in their minds.
What felt like a lifetime in the moment all happened in just a matter of minutes.
Reno Hollen, a veteran of the Gulf War, and his wife were the first to come upon the vehicle, getting there just in time to see the car go up in flames.
“Something told me I need to hurry and get somewhere,” said Hollen. “Just about that time, we came up on the accident and there was some flames coming up from the car.”
Hollen said he knew there was no time to waste. Sprinting down the hill off Highway 49 just south of Wiggins, he went to work trying to assess the situation and pull the children from the burning vehicle.
“I got the driver out with the help of a younger kid who had stopped,” said Hollen.
While others on the scene helped the 17-year-old driver up the hill, Hollen’s focus shifted to the teenager in the passenger seat. Hollen said he desperately tried to do everything he could to get to the boy, who would later be identified as Braylon.
“I came around to the passenger seat and I was trying to break the window. I was hitting it with my fist, a log, everything,” said Hollen.
As Hollen tried to break the window, Stone County Sheriff’s Deputy Chaviss Jones arrived on the scene. Running to the vehicle, Jones pulled out his pocket knife, which has a window breaker on the end of it.
“I could hear them beating on the window,” recalled Jones. “I come down the hill to the vehicle and grabbed my knife that had a window breaker on the end of it, and I popped the passenger window.”
“I reached in and felt for a pulse,” said Hollen. “There was no pulse and, at that time, I noticed there was movement in the back seat. We got to get around here.”
By this time, Deputy Nathanael Floyd had also arrived on the scene and quickly jumped into action to help the other two men.
Working together, the men used the deputy’s window breaker once again, rushing against the clock as the flames grew.
“We popped the back window. My partner and I got out batons and knocked the glass out,” said Jones. “As we cleared the glass out, I could see the 17-year old was reaching, trying to get out.”
Swanigan’s two younger sisters were trapped in the back seat as the flames continued to spread.
“All I remember thinking was, ‘One more, can we get one more?’” said Floyd.
Pushing through the heat, adrenaline pumping, the men pulled the children to safety.
“At that point, Mr. Hollen reached into the car and pulled the 14-year old by her shirt and pulled her up to where we could grab her,” said Floyd. “We grabbed her under the arms and drug her off the car. I drug her back away from the car.”
Once both girls were safe, the men once again tried to pull Braylon from the wreck but, unfortunately, they ran out of time.
“The car went up in flames fast. I mean, I had never seen anything burn so quick,” said Hollen.
The actions of Reno Hollen, the two deputies, and a few others who also stopped helped save Braylon’s three younger siblings.
While their actions may seem heroic, none of them are comfortable being called a hero.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” said Jones. “I mean, to me, I was doing my job, I would do it again for anybody.”
For Deputy Floyd, he’s grateful they were able to get the three younger children out of the vehicle, but not being able to save their older brother is something that now haunts him.
“I know we did our job. I know we did everything in our power, but the end result wasn’t quite exactly what we would hope for,” said Floyd. “We always hope for everyone to get out. Because there was one that we were not able to get out, it is definitely going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”
The tragic accident is one that will also stick with Hollen and his wife for the rest of their lives. Hollen said his heart is just broken for Braylon’s family.
“I couldn’t imagine losing my child at 19,” said Hollen. “I lost a child that was young, and I didn’t have 19 years to get attached to her. They had 19 years to get attached to this kid.”
Since the crash, he and his wife are doing everything they can to support the parents and children who lost Braylon, even driving up to Arkansas in the days following the wreck to attend Braylon’s funeral.
It’s a story that could have been even more tragic than it already is had it not been for the selflessness and bravery of those who worked to save the children.
“I can’t thank them enough for responding and helping and just showing that Stone County is a lot more together than some other towns,” said Deputy Floyd.
Two of the three siblings that were pulled from the vehicle were seriously injured but are now out of the hospital and home recovering.