Family, friends and a small New York community are mourning the death of a 16-year-old girl after she and her toddler cousin struck a tree while sledding on Saturday morning.
The fatal collision happened at a community park in Lewiston, N.Y., according to local police. The teen and the three-year-old boy rode a sledding tube down a hill and struck a tree at high speed.
The girl died of her injuries, while the boy was treated in hospital and released that same day.
Authorities did not name the victims, but the girl’s family has identified her as Renee Hill. The girl is being mourned throughout the small community of Lewiston, which has a population of 16,000.
Hill’s parents, Richard Hill and Alexis Kraft, described her as the eldest of four children and a “mama bear” who always protected her family.
“She could get them in line really quick and she was loving and they all loved her,” Kraft told local station WKBW.
Hill’s parents — who were not on the scene when the accident took place — say she was on the tube with her cousin at the time of the accident, and she deliberately flipped the sled to protect him from harm.
“Everyone’s calling her a hero, but that was my baby,” Kraft told the broadcaster. “Her first instinct was to put her foot down and flip the sled so my nephew wouldn’t get hurt. She hit the tree. Her heart stopped on the way to the hospital.”
It was not immediately clear who else from Hill’s family was on-scene when the incident occurred, or how her parents learned that information.
The girl was a student at Niagara Wheatfield High School and an avid lacrosse player, her father said.
“Everyone loved her,” Hill said.
Kraft added that her daughter was fearless on the lacrosse field, which earned her the nickname, “The Beast.”
“Once she got on the field, she would just go so hard,” she said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to handle the family’s funeral expenses.
The hill was closed for sledding after the incident.
The Lewiston Police Department and Niagara County Sheriff’s Office are investigating.