Good Samaritan steps in after toddler's mother killed in crash

FREDONIA -- A mother was killed in a crash on Valentine's Day, and now, her family says they're grateful for the "Guardian Angel" they say was sent to look over her four-year-old daughter.

That Good Samaritan pulled the little girl from the back seat and comforted her after the accident.

Chris Pannier says she feels she was meant to be on Highway H in Fredonia Tuesday morning, so she could help the little girl. Pannier says she's not stopping there - she has other plans to help this family.

Driving on County Highway H on Tuesday, Pannier says she saw the car in the ditch near Hawthorne Drive, smashed into a utility pole. "The one lane was pretty slushy, and sometimes being in Wisconsin, you get in those ruts and they just drag you, and I think that's what happened," Pannier said.

As Pannier approached the car, her attention was on the back seat. "All I noticed in the back seat was this four-year-old girl who was just very upset. Not hurt, just upset," Pannier said.

27-year-old Heather Marciel died at the scene. Police believe she wasn't wearing a seat belt. However, the four-year-old girl was strapped in to her car seat. The two were on their way to Little Friends Learning Center, where Marciel worked. "Took her out (of her carseat). She was dressed in her Valentine's dress, ready for a party at school, and I just talked to her and tried to keep her comfortable and keep her calm," Pannier said.

As the mother of a boy the same age, Pannier cared for the four-year-old in her own car for 30 minutes. Little Gabby's dad says he's comforted someone was there. "That someone would actually open their arms enough to actually stop and actually help, you don't find many people out in the world who would have probably done the same thing," Daniel Marciel said.

Unable to get Gabby out of her mind, Pannier has set up a fund for donations to her family. "I can't imagine losing someone in that way, and I can't imagine my child seeing something like that. Anything to make their lives a little better," Pannier said.

Daniel Marciel says his daughter is shaken up, but doesn't really understand what happened yet. He says his wife was a mother first, and as terrible irony would have it, he met her on Valentine's Day.

Donations can be made at Associated Bank. The memorial fund is under the name: Heather Marciel.