It happened around 3:45 p.m. on N.C. Highway 96 north near Antioch Church Road, which is just north of Selma.
"Such a high squeal, just screeching of the tires," said eyewitness Candice Chatham. "Just for a good probably four to five seconds, and then it was just boom, boom, boom, boom."
It was a gut wrenching scene across the street from Chatham's Johnston County home.
"I threw my shoes on to come run out here to see what was going on," said eyewitness Robert Williams.
The car apparently lost control, hit a tree, and flipped upside down.
"It looked like it had exploded and was wrapped around the tree," said Chatham.
Chatham says two men, a woman and an infant strapped in a car seat were able to get out of the vehicle within the first few moments, but then panic over a second child quickly set in.
"The father of the passenger was just screaming 'Maddie, Madison, Maddie, Madison' over and over again," said Chatham. "I asked him, 'Whose Madison?' He said, 'My daughter.' So I automatically knew there was a child in the car."
Chatham said the toddler was pinned in the vehicle.
About 45 minutes after rescue crews arrived, a helicopter transported the toddler to Duke Trauma center with critical injuries. The 20-month-old later died.
An ambulance took the four others to WakeMed.
Troopers have charged the female driver with death by motor vehicle and speeding.