Responders tell of traumatic crash scene
A day after the car they were in plunged into a frigid pond in St. Louis Park in predawn darkness, three young survivors remained hospitalized Friday, one of them in “very, very critical” condition, the family’s attorney said.
Despite a harrowing 26-minute rescue effort by police officers and firefighters, two other children, Zenavia Rennie, 5, and Alarious Coleman-Guerrido, 7, died Thursday. All six occupants of the car were part of an extended family.
The driver, Marion Guerrido, 23, of Brooklyn Center, had driven her boyfriend to his new job and was taking the children to school or day care when her four-door 1998 Pontiac Grand Am sedan went off the ramp at 6:16 a.m. She escaped, apparently through the driver’s side window, and stood on its nearly submerged roof with a good Samaritan who swam out to try to help.
The children, tangled and tossed amid debris, remained in the car as it continued to sink to the bottom of the murky pond by the interchange at Hwys. 7 and 100.
“She tried frantically to remove the children from the sinking vehicle,” said attorney and family friend Rick Petry. “This is a horrible, horrible tragedy and accident.”
The car, which had been heading west on Hwy. 7 before skidding off the ramp, landed in water that was “quite deep,” an estimated 8 to 9 feet, and “incredibly cold,” said State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske. A resident of the Brittany Apartment complex overlooking the pond heard screams and called 911.
In their emotional descriptions of the rescue, the first responders said Guerrido was in too much shock to communicate other than to scream, “My kids! Save my kids!” The car, 50 feet from the pond’s edge, continued to sink.
St. Louis Park police officer Aaron Trant, the first to reach the pond, said he “didn’t know what I was about to see.” His heart sank when he learned children were trapped in a submerged car, he said.
As badly as they wanted to swim to them, Trant and Sgt. Bryan Kruelle waited for the firefighters they knew were close behind. Sgt. Jon Parker took off his gun belt and waded in but was forced to turn around when he found he could barely walk in the mud.
Firefighters arrived quickly and plunged in; there was no time to wait for rescue divers. A firefighter wearing no protective gear got to the car to mark its location for responders.
Then firefighter Tim Smith, who had donned a flotation suit, swam out and pushed his legs through an open window, searching for the children with his feet and legs. Guiding the first child he found to his arms, he handed the child to another firefighter, who swam to shore.
The same procedure found the second child, this time with Capt. Paul Risholt swimming the child to shore. Smith, attached to a rope from shore, punched out two windows and located the third and fourth children. Responders pulled Smith and the children to shore, where ambulances waited.
“I thought we had them all until the State Patrol said there was one more child in the car,” Smith said. Within minutes, he had retrieved the last child.
Randy Elledge, a paramedic for 35 years, said he’d never seen a rescue like it.
“You train for things you hope never happen,” said St. Louis Park Fire Chief Steve Koering. “If not for the efforts of all these individuals, there is no chance anybody would be surviving.”
Still hospitalized Friday were Amani Coleman-Guerrido, 5; Aliyana Rennie, 1, and Zarihana Rennie, 6. Amani and Aliyana were doing a little better Friday, responding to verbal commands, Petry said, but Zarihana remained in “very, very critical” condition.
Cause of crash not known
Three of the children are Guerrido’s — Alarious, who died; Amani, and baby Aliyana. Aliyana’s father, Julius Rennie, is Guerrido’s boyfriend. Zenavia was Rennie’s daughter, as is Zarihana.
Roeske said it could be several weeks before the investigation is complete. He said he had no new details about what caused the car to go off the ramp, adding that investigators have no evidence to indicate that it was intentionally driven off the ramp.
No alcohol was detected, but Roeske said Guerrido had only a driver’s permit and was required to have another licensed adult driver in the car. Authorities did not say whether the children were wearing seat belts or if any were in car seats.
Guerrido and her family issued a statement thanking family, friends and community members for their outpouring of support, as well as “the brave responders” and hospital caregivers.
“Words cannot express our grief at the loss of our children, Zenavia Rennie and Alarious Coleman-Guerrido. As you can only imagine, this is our worst nightmare,” the statement said. “We cannot even think about life without them, and already miss them so much.”
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