JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Navy wife cited in a three-car pileup Tuesday that left Leonard Fournette without a bumper on his luxury car said she had no idea who the Jaguars star was but that her 9-year-old son recognized the rookie running back right away.
"I’ll be 100 percent honest with you, I had no idea who he was," Janelle Sweeney said of Fournette. "The state trooper and my son were talking about him. That’s how I found out there was a football player involved."
Sweeney, 28, said she did everything she could to avoid starting the chain reaction crash on I-295 just before the Dames Point Bridge around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol report, Fournette slowed because of a car ahead of him, and two cars back Sweeney wasn't able to stop her Honda Pilot in time, knocking the car in between them into Fournette's back bumper, which fell off -- creating a souvenir opportunity for a lucky first responder.
“The bumper was on the ground, and I was in the car waiting for the police to come. He came out of nowhere and was like, 'Can you sign this for me?'” Fournette said Thursday, recalling the aftermath of the wreck. “'You want me to sign a bumper?' (I asked), and he was like, 'Yeah,' and I was like, 'Whatever.' It was cool.”
He said it was the first -- and hopefully last -- bumper he'd ever autographed.
He said the most striking part of the crash was that it coincidentally involved a group of Steelers fans. The Buick Lacrosse sandwiched between Sweeney's SUV and Fournette's Mercedes-Benz Maybach was driven by a Pennsylvania native.
“It was so crazy because the lady and her in-laws were Pittsburgh fans, you know what I mean?” Fournette said. “They had pictures from the game and her in-laws didn’t know who I was until everyone started taking pictures with me.”
Fournette also posed for a photo with Sweeney's 9-year-old son and signed a napkin for him -- which he now has hanging in his room.
Sweeney, whose husband is on deployment on a submarine out of Kings Bay, praised Fournette for the way he treated her son.
She said she likes him even more now, but she's frustrated because she's been getting flooded with negative comments on social media.
"It’s very discouraging and disheartening to see my community that I’ve grown up in my whole life be so negative and outrageous. Some of the messages I’ve gotten via Facebook," Sweeney said. “I wish people would realized I'm a human and this is an accident."
Troopers said Sweeney, a mother of three, was not distracted, but she was cited for careless driving. In almost every case, a driver in Florida who rear-ends a car in front of them will be considered at fault.
No one was injured in the crash, but Sweeney said it happened on her other son's birthday and she was disappointed to miss taking cupcakes to his class.
Fournette, who ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns in Jacksonville's 45-42 victory at Pittsburgh last Sunday, said he was fine Thursday and pointed out that he was wearing his seat belt during the crash.
The running back, who turned 23 on Thursday, elicited laughter from reporters when he jokingly estimated the bumper of his 2017 Mercedes-Benz Maybach cost $50,000.
“I wasn’t really worried about it as long as everyone was being helped and was straight,” he added.
If Fournette needs help finding a new bumper for his car, Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who made his fortune manufacturing auto parts, might be able to help with that.
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