Pregnant parapro rescues teacher from crash

By Kathy Jefcoats


JONESBORO — Heroes come in all forms.

Joy Waye’s vehicle was hit Friday morning as she drove to her job as a gifted teacher at Mt. Zion Primary School in Stockbridge. It was still dark, about 7 a.m., as she tried to turn left off Ga. 138 onto Mt. Zion Road. Another car crashed into hers, sending her vehicle into turmoil. Her vehicle hit a guardrail, setting off her airbags and trapping her.

“I couldn’t get the door opened,” said Waye. “It was bent and I couldn’t get out.”

A frantic Waye saw what she took to be smoke emanating from her crumpled car and grew terrified. No one rushed to her aid.

“At least 20 cars went by,” she said. “I guess everyone was rushing to get to work. I was so scared. I started banging on my window and yelling for help.”

Gretel Thornton, of Jonesboro, was making her way to work, too. Thornton is a paraprofessional at Mt. Zion Elementary, which also is on Mt. Zion Road. She spotted the wreckage.

“I could hear someone knocking on a window,” said Thornton. “I could actually hear a lady yelling for help.”

Still, Thornton was unsure if she should stop. The pregnant mother of two was afraid she'd be late for work.

“Then I realized I was going to be late anyway, so I stopped,” she said. “I saw smoke and I just knew it was going to blow up.”

Thornton was able to jerk open the door from the outside and get Waye out. She also parked her car to block traffic from the crash. A few minutes later, an undercover police officer stopped to render aid and call 911. Waye told Thornton she was heading to work.

“I told her I work at the elementary school so I’d go by her school and tell them what happened,” said Thornton.

The two educators met again Monday at the Clayton County Schools Administration Building. Waye slowly entered the building wearing a brace on her left leg. Her face lit up as she approached Thornton to embrace her.

“Thank you so much for what you did, this just brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “Not everyone stopped like you did.”

Waye said she was in pain and bears a seat belt bruise on her left shoulder but she was back to work Monday. She also teaches gifted students at East Clayton Elementary School. Her principal, Freda Givens, said the 11-year veteran educator is dedicated.

“Her dedication is unsurpassed,” said Givens. “Most people would be home nursing their injured leg but she is the manager of our mock election that will be held this week and she wanted to be there. She’s an awesome teacher.”

It was only when they met that Waye learned that Thornton is due with her third child in February. Her hero is a pregnant mother of two.

“That really shows what kind of person she is,” said Waye. “She risked her child. She could have gone on.”

Going on wasn’t an option, said Thornton.

“I heard her say, ‘Help,’ and saw the smoke,” she said. “I’d want someone to stop and help me.”