Five children and one adult were killed on a country road in eastern Mississippi early Saturday morning when their sport utility vehicle flew off the road and submerged in an adjacent creek.
A crew of 30 divers and emergency workers managed to pull the car out of the water at about 3 a.m., the New York Daily News said.
Neshoba County Deputy Coroner Marshall Prince identified the bodies as five siblings: Dasyanna John, 9; Duane John, 8; Bobby John, 7; Quinton John, 4; and Kekaimeas John, 18 months. Diane Chickaway, 37, a friend of the family, was also killed in the accident, the the Daily News said.
Tommy Waddell, the sheriff of Neshoba County, said that all of the passengers were members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a 10,000-member tribe which operates the nearby Pearl River Resort casino complex. The victims appeared to have drowned after the Dodge Durango they were traveling in went off road at around midnight Saturday, said Waddell. He added that none of the passengers had been wearing seat belts or child restraints at the time of the accident.
The children's father, Dewayne John, who had been driving, managed to escape from the SUV and remained in the hospital, where he was being treated for hypothermia and water inhalation. The children's mother, Deanna Jim, also survived, along with Chickaway's husband, Dale.
The crash occurred on Country Road 107, near the county line that separates Neshoba and Newton. Waddell said that the usually small creek adjacent to the road had been swollen due to heavy rains over the past few days; however, it had not been raining at the time of the crash, and there had not been any ice on the road, reports said.
"This accident is not weather-related at all," Waddell said. He said that the children's father had been tested to see if he had been driving under the influence of alcohol, but the results had not yet come in. If the results were positive, Waddell said that officials would not file charges against John before Wednesday, at the earliest.
“It’s always sad to hear of the death of a tribal member, but today our tribe experienced a great tragedy with the loss of six beautiful Choctaw souls. I cannot begin to imagine what the friends, relatives and loved ones are feeling,” Tribal Chief Phyliss J. Anderson said in a statement. “There are no words that can express our sincere condolences to such a horrific accident. I join many of you in the outpouring display of love and support shown to the families during this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”