Arizona authorities investigating a crash in the Tempe Town Lake on Sunday provided an update. Sadly, the death toll rose to five when a final child died after the family’s sport utility vehicle plunged into the lake.
According to an AZ Central news update, Tempe Police Department officials reported that three young children and two adults perished in the afternoon hours. Their death causes appear to be attributed to drowning.
Authorities were dispatched to the location of the accident about 12:15 a.m. Upon arrival close to the north side of the Scottsdale Road bridge, police observed a silver-colored SUV in the Tempe Town Lake. It was submerged and flipped upside-down. There were no apparent signs of conscious survivors among what police thought were only four occupants.
— azcentral (@azcentral) October 19, 2015
Rescue workers managed to remove two adults: Glenn Edward Baxter, 27, and Danica, 25, his wife. Additionally, two children — a son and daughter — were identified at the time: two-year-old Nazyiah and one-year-old Zariyah. First responders performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on the Tempe Town Lake victims, but to no avail. They were all transported to a local hospital, but were pronounced dead a short time later, according to Tempe police spokesperson Lt. Michael Pooley.
“Officers got on scene pretty quick. When they got on scene, three jumped into the water immediately. One of the fishermen also jumped into the water.”
Some nine or so hours later, authorities made another grisly discovery: a fifth victim was found in the lake. Police found three-year-old Reighn, Baxter’s son. Earlier, while investigating the lake plunge, the child was mentioned, but was not accounted for at the time. One possible reason is because the water was murky at the time the SUV headed into the lake. As a consequence, visibility was very low.
— Danielle Miller (@Fox10Danielle) October 19, 2015
Apparently, witnesses on the scene did not know of a fifth person inside the vehicle. The child was found still secured in his car seat, which was located on the last row in the rear of the submerged vehicle. Nazyiah was the only occupant of the vehicle to survive the initial plunge into the lake. However, he died later after spending much of Sunday in critical condition, according to NBCNews.
Police say several witnesses came forward to offer details on what they saw at the time of the crash. With their vantage points from the south side of Tempe Lake, unnamed witnesses say they recall seeing the SUV on the embankment with its lights on. They all report hearing the sound of a crash and observed the vehicle flipped upside-down in the murky water. Lighting conditions were low at the time of night.
Lt. Pooley said his agency is working hard to reconstruct the accident scene and are in search of additional witnesses who may help determine what happened before the lake plunge. It’s unclear if the driver intentionally drove the SUV into Tempe Lake, was impaired at the time of the crash, or was distracted. Authorities are also looking for evidence to rule out other vehicles being involved, evidence of defects in the road or traffic control systems, and signs of mechanical defects.
“This is a very horrific thing…. It touches all of us. We don’t know exactly what happened. We don’t know what led the driver to do this,” Pooley said, who added that, “You can’t help but feel heartbroken.”
Undoubtedly, police are looking for any evidence that may suggest the driver planned the accident. It’s unclear why the family was in that location in the middle of the city at that time of night with young children. The driver’s remains will be handed over to the jurisdiction the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner. There, staff will perform a standard autopsy and draw blood and tissue samples for toxicology.
Tempe Town Lake is located near Arizona State University. It was built in 1999 and has a volume capacity of 1 billion gallons of water.
[Featured image via Twitter]