Victims Identified In Spring River Crash Near Miami, Oklahoma

Thursday, February 3rd 2011, 9:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI, Oklahoma -- Three people died after an SUV plunged into the Spring River from Interstate 44 early Thursday.  Five other victims survived and were flown by helicopter to Joplin hospitals.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said the Chevy Avalanche was going west on I-44 when the driver lost control on the ice.  Troopers said the SUV hit a concrete wall, slid, struck the bridge wall, and fell 61 feet into the water.

Six people inside the SUV were able to climb out of the sun roof. 

Troopers said the driver, 31-year-old Leonor Alcano, was unable to make it out of the vehicle.  He died at the scene from hypothermia. Troopers said Alcano was pinned for two hours and twenty minutes.

Troopers said 37-year-old Irma Garcia was also unable to make it out of the vehicle. She died at the scene from hypothermia after being pinned for two hours and twenty minutes.

Another passenger, 22-year-old Douglas Monzon, died on the way to the hospital. OHP said Monzon fell into the river while reaching for a blanket rescue crews had thrown him, and that crews reached Monzon about an hour later in the river.

Four men and one woman survived the crash and are being treated at Joplin area hospitals.

Julio Garcia, 21, is listed in critical condition at Freemen Health System in Joplin.  Samuel Hernadez, 22, is also listed in critical condition at the same hospital. 

The three other survivors were transported to St. John Regional Medical Center in Joplin. Francisca Cosagua, 21, Mario Romero, 30, and Eli Feliberto, 19, are listed in serious condition. All three victims at St. John were treated for severe hypothermia and several broken bones.

The eight worked at Engelbrecht Farms. Scott Engelbrecht, who runs the mushroom farm, said the operation was shut down Wednesday because of the weather and reopened Thursday. The 45 or so workers heard the news about their colleagues shortly after 9 a.m., he said.

"It's a devastating event and it's tough to know how to deal with it," Engelbrecht said.

The westbound lanes of I-44 on the Will Rogers Turnpike east of Miami were closed for a total of six hours. They were reopened at 12:20 p.m.

Spring River Water Rescue

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said the Chevy Avalanche, which is called both an SUV and a pickup by Chevrolet, was westbound when it lost control on the icy road, hit the bridge wall and overturned into the  frozen river at about 6:20 a.m.

"They hit probably in a more shallow area, but that's all frozen water there," said News On 6 pilot Will Kavanagh, at the scene in SkyNews 6. "We don't know all the details, but the way the snow has been plowed up against the guard rail is almost like a ramp."

Read Kavanagh's description of covering the tragedy. 

The water was about 80 feet below the bridge.

The Miami Fire Department lowered a basket over the bridge to the vehicle which landed upright.  Members of the Wyandotte Fire Department dive team, wearing special cold-water gear, had to get into the frigid water to pull the victims out.  They used a small boat to help reach the vehicle.

The steep, rocky shoreline, icy water and temperatures that ranged from minus-12 to minus-15 made the rescue more difficult, according to Chief Jeff Reeves of Quapaw Tribe Fire and EMS.  Reeves spoke at a brief news conference at 3 p.m.

Six divers were treated for hypothermia and exposure. Five were treated and released and the other kept for observation.

2/3/2011 Related Story: Emergency Workers In Spring River Rescue Treated For Exposure, Hypothermia