More grateful than ever, Independence teen thanks first responders who rescued her after car crash

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- An Independence teenager who was nearly killed in a car crash thanked the firefighters and first responders who saved her life on Tuesday.

The meeting comes seven months after prosecutors said a man driving a stolen car slammed into 17-year-old Shelley Cunningham as she left school.

Family, friends and even some of the first responders weren't sure Shelley would make it – making Tuesday’s meeting that much sweeter.

“Thank you for everything that you guys have done,” Shelley told the group. “It means a lot.”

It was a small token of appreciation from Shelley, a William Chrisman High School senior who miraculously survived the horrific crash this past February.

“You look a lot better than the last time I saw you!” one first responder joked.

“I bet!” Shelley said with a laugh.

Shelley counted her blessings and handed out cookies to the Independence firefighters and first responders with American Medical Response (AMR) who rushed to her side that fateful day.

“They played a huge part in saving my life,” she said. “I think if they weren’t there, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Emergency crews recalled using the Jaws of Life to free Shelley, who was trapped inside her car.

“Everything was within just inches from her body,” said Devin Jones, a captain with Rescue 1 at the Independence Fire Department. “We just unfolded that car from around her and that`s really what my whole focus was.”

As they worked to free her, a good Samaritan held her hand and said a prayer.

“I`ve got a daughter who is the same age who goes to Truman and I was just thinking, ‘Wow, how quick life can change!’” said Brett Gilbert, who owns an auto repair shop nearby and ran to help.

And while some doctors said Shelley wouldn't make it – she's here today.

“Oh it was awesome!” Jones said of finally meeting Shelley. “I mean, we rarely have that happen where they come back and tell us, ‘Hey, I’m okay now. Everything worked out and thanks.’ We really appreciate it.”

Shelley said the feelings are mutual, as she feels more grateful than ever.

“Just shaking their hand and stuff gave me some type of closure,” she said. “Just to give them a thank you. Thank you for having the job that you have.”

Shelley will graduate high school this spring. She has plans to attend college in the fall, where she wants to study to become a pediatric nurse.

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