From left: Liam, Alayna, Aynsley and Ryder Sutton
Courtesy Sarah Sutton
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May 14, 2018 03:29 PM

Sarah Sutton, of Weddington, North Carolina, was driving home with her four young children after a long day last week when tragedy struck. Sarah, in her 2016 Chevy Suburban, approached the intersection of Rea and Marvin School Roads when another vehicle came rushing toward hers around 5 p.m. local time.

“It was rush hour traffic in Charlotte and somebody was coming from the opposite direction and he turned left right out in front of us, in front of all the cars. I was the first car and he hit me head-on. It was like hitting a brick wall,” Sarah, 42, tells PEOPLE.” I just started screaming, ‘My babies! My babies!’ ”

Sarah says all of the airbags in the car deployed, and she became trapped in the driver’s seat as the front of the car had been mangled. That’s when she heard her oldest daughter, 6-year-old Alayna, yell, “We crashed!” And in the rear view mirror, she watched the little girl free herself from her car seat.

Sarah Sutton's damaged car
Courtesy Sarah Sutton

“Then she started unbuckling her siblings. She was able to do her car seat and Ryder’s [age 3]. She went to unbuckle Aynsley [2], she was able to just climb over [the seat] and unbuckle her,” Sarah recalls of Alayna. “All four kids were screaming, they were scared. She’s my little mama, she really is. She just takes care of all of her siblings.”

Strangers rushed over to the vehicle and began pulling the children out of the car after they were unbuckled. However, Alayna had been unable to free her 5-year-old brother Liam, who was in the backseat. But she was determined to do all she could to help the little boy.

“Liam was still in the back and he started screaming. Alayna was screaming, ‘My brother’s in there! You left my brother in the car!’  A lady came and said, ‘How many kids do you have? Three?’ I said, ‘No, four! Where’s my fourth child? ‘ Then she grabbed Liam and got him out.”

Courtesy Sarah Sutton
Courtesy Sarah Sutton

Sarah says an ambulance quickly arrived and she and the children were taken to a local hospital where they were treated for concussions, lacerations and shoulder, neck and leg injuries. But the mom says the emotional injuries have been the worst to deal with.

“We have nightmares every night. The kids are still unable to sleep in their own beds. Alayna hasn’t been able to go back to school, her headaches are just so, so severe,” she tells PEOPLE.

Sarah, who first shared her story with Love What Matters, says the other driver was transported to a local hospital as well and survived the crash. Despite their injuries, the thankful mother says she’s glad she and her children are alive.

Sarah and Neil Sutton with children, Arianna, Alayna, Liam, Aynsley and Ryder Sutton
Courtesy Sarah Sutton

“There was no way we should have made it out. There’s no way,” she says, praising Alayna for her quick action to save her siblings. “We’re very, very proud of [Alayna] I think for her, it’s just second nature. We’re a very tight-knit family … she’s just like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ She’s always looking out for them.”

Now, as the family heals after the accident, Sarah is crediting the five-point harness car seats with saving the children’s lives.

“The EMT did tell me that probably did save their lives. They would have sustained much, much worse if they just had a normal harness,” she tells PEOPLE. “I really, truly feel that it would’ve been a different outcome if they weren’t in that five-point harness.”

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