By BRIAN MELLEY
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Lindsy Doan didn’t think the water flowing over the creek crossing on San Marcos Road was deeper than usual when she tried to navigate her SUV while driving her 5-year-old son to school.
But the creek, swollen by rain from California’s epic winter storms, it was much louder and flowing stronger than she expected. Doan cursed as she lost control of the wheel, and the 4,300-pound (1,950 kg) Chevy Traverse was pulled off the road and pinned against a large sycamore tree.
“Mom, it’s okay,” her son, Kyle, reassured her from the backseat. “Just stay calm.”
They were the last words the little boy said to his mother before his fingers slipped out of hers and he was taken away on Monday. on the central coast of California near Paso Robles.
“Yesterday I got to the point where I think I ran out of tears,” Doan told the Associated Press. “I just don’t know what else to expect. I mean, I tried to do a Google search: how long can a child go without food? How long can they stay in wet clothes? … We are worried because I don’t know if they will be able to find him”.
About 200 people – including about 120 National Guard troops, search-and-rescue teams from six counties, diving teams, dog and drone searches – searched for Kyle on Thursday in the receding waters and huge piles of debris along the shoreline. from San Marcos Creek, the San Luis said the Obispo County Sheriff’s Department. So far, they’ve only found one of their blue and gray Nike sneakers.
The storms that relentlessly hit California since the end of last year they have killed at least 18 people. Most deaths were caused by falling trees. and people driving on flooded roads.
Kyle was listed as missing.
With a sister in high school and a brother in college, he’s the youngest in the family and loves to be the center of attention.
“He definitely took advantage of it,” said his mother. “He loves to make everyone laugh. He wanted to make everyone smile. He loves to please people.”
As the holidays came to an end, Kyle was excited to return to kindergarten on Monday at Lillian Larsen Elementary School, his mother said. It was the first day he could play without restrictions after recovering from a broken leg that required three surgeries and he was looking forward to seeing his friends.
Doan, the school’s special education teacher, was less enthusiastic, wishing she had a few more days off as she hit the back road from her home near Paso Robles.
For most of the year, the creek that runs along the San Marcos Road is like so many rivers and streams in California. —a winding strip of sand that only flows with the winter and spring rains. When it’s flowing, it’s usually easy to drive through the shallow water that runs alongside the road in places.
The Doan family drove the same route on Sunday to a truck stop on Highway 101, splashing through the water without incident.
When Doan approached on Monday in a light rain, there were no closed roads and she didn’t think it looked any different from the day before.
“But as soon as I got to the bottom my car started to skid and I realized it wasn’t the same thing,” she said. “It was completely different.”
Scotty Jalbert, emergency services manager for San Luis Obispo County, said river crossings can be tricky and people can get into trouble after successfully crossing them multiple times. Just six inches of water is enough to knock a person over and even push a car off course if it’s moving fast.
“We use the term ‘Turn around, don’t drown,’” Jalbert said. “With this tragedy, when rescuers arrived at the scene, water was on top of the vehicle. Obviously, that kind of energy is going to cause a bad situation.”
Jalbert said anyone trapped in a car that takes on water should get out if they can and climb onto the roof if possible.
Neil Collins and his wife, Danielle, who own an orchard on San Marcos Road, went out to the creek that morning to see if they could make it through the floodwaters.
When he saw waves of muddy brown water and the steady stream carrying stout oak and sycamore boughs downstream, he said, “This won’t end well for anyone.”
Within 15 minutes, his prediction came true.
After Doan’s car stopped against the trees, it started to fill with water, so she decided to abandon it. The windows wouldn’t go down, but she managed to open the door and hug a tree. With the chain holding the back door closed, she told Kyle to drop off his belongings and climb into the front seat.
“I don’t care about your backpack,” she said. “I just want you to come to me.”
She managed to grab his hand, but her grip was tenuous and the current swept Kyle across the tree.
“I could feel his fingers slipping from mine,” she said.
When the water separated them, she let go of the tree to try to catch her son, who couldn’t swim.
“I saw his head floating and he was looking at me because he was going backwards,” she said. “I was trying to keep my head above water but the currents kept pulling me under. And after a while I didn’t see Kyle or what was going on.
Collins missed seeing Doan wade into the creek. But his screams drew his attention.
“I looked at my wife and said, ‘That sounds like a human being,’” he said. “I heard a second scream and just ran upstream.”
In a typical winter, the river can be waist-deep, but he calculated that it would be up to 12 feet deep and four times its width when flowing.
After spotting Lindsy Doan struggling to stay afloat, Collins noticed another body floating in the middle of the creek and thought it appeared lifeless. So he focused on Doan, who was closer to shore.
He ran beside her down the river while his wife called 911 and some orchard workers brought in a rope. Eventually, Doan managed to grab some brushwood branches underwater and Collins and his crew threw her a lifeline.
Doan was hysterical when she reached shore, Collins said. It was only then that he realized that the other figure passing by was her son.
If Doan had floated another 100 yards (91 meters), he’s not sure he could have helped her. An embankment and a barbed wire fence would have prevented him from running alongside her.
“Time was running out,” he said.
Brian Doan, Kyle’s father, is grateful that his wife was saved. He doesn’t blame her for driving that route and thinks she did the right things to try and save her son.
Despite these reassurances, Lindsy Doan can’t stop second guessing herself.
“In the back of your mind, it’s like, ‘Well, what if, what if, what if I just turn around and go back the other way?’” she said. “What if, what if I had just decided, ‘Hey, you know, aren’t we going to go this route today?’ I don’t know if that will go away.”
When asked what her son could say to her in this moment, Doan took a deep breath and thought before saying that Kyle always wanted his family to be happy and feel good.
“Maybe he’d say something like… ‘There’s nothing you can do, Mom, it’s okay. Everything will be fine.'”
AP researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed from New York.
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