Police: Mother tried to reach 2 daughters as truck sank into river

JENNER, Calif. -- Two little girls, ages 4 and 7, were killed in a terrible accident Tuesday after the truck they were riding in crashed in the Russian River. The crash happened on a stretch of Highway 116 with a narrow shoulder and no guardrail, just outside of Jenner in Sonoma County.

The two sisters have been identified as 4-year-old Hailey and 6-year-old Kaitlyn Markus.

It is the accident that has taken from Jenner not only its two favorite little girls, but also the only children in town. Two friends of the family spoke with ABC7 News.

"They were swinging on the swing yesterday," said one woman.

Michelle Irwin, a neighbor and friend of the victims, added, "All we heard was that the car fishtailed on the road this morning. It was wet. It was foggy."

The little girls, tucked into their car seats, were on their way to school in Monte Rio where their mother works.

No one saw what caused the truck to leave the road and plunge 12 feet to the bottom of the Russian River.

Because the roads were wet, CHP Officer Jon Sloat says the mother may have overcorrected, causing the truck to drive off the road and down a 40-foot embankment into the river.

Harry Kenney heard the splash.

"And before I could recognize whether it was even a car or truck it went gurgle gurgle and went down and a big bunch of bubbles came to the surface and then a woman came up shortly after screaming, 'My babies, my babies!'" he said.

CHP officials say the mother tried to reach her daughters, but the Ford truck sank rapidly in 10-15 feet of water.

She did not leave the scene for almost six hours. When the truck hit the water, witnesses jumped in to help, without success.

The first divers arrived 30 minutes later. They found the truck right side up on the bottom, the little girls still inside and no air pockets.

"I was unsuccessful in getting the door open," said Tim Murphy with California State Parks. "And then one of my lifeguards came and he was able to get in through the driver side window that was open or broken. He was able to open the door and bring the two victims out."

The road where the crash occurred is windy, and then it just drops off. Down below is the Russian River. People who frequently drive this stretch of Highway 1 say it's dangerous, and want a guardrail put up.

"A guardrail here would be a great help to hopefully stop any cars from going over the edge. You can see it's pretty steep, cars go straight into the water," said Jenner resident Brook Edwards.

"It's tricky. When there's heavy mist it's pretty slippery," said Bodega Bay resident Martin Cervantes.

It was foggy at the time of the crash. Hailey and Kaitlyn went to school in Monte Rio. The principal said there will be counselors and therapy dogs on campus.

In this close-knit community with fewer than 100 residents, when one person hurts, they all do.

It's a family there; a grieving one tonight.

Bay City News contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.