A toddler has improved to critical but stable condition after she was trapped upside down for more than 14 hours in a vehicle that plunged into a Utah river, according to police.
Authorities said that the 18-month-old girl’s mother — who was the driver of the vehicle and was identified as 25-year-old Lynn Jennifer Groesbeck — was killed in the accident, which took place about 10:30 p.m. Friday. Groesbeck had been visiting her parents in Salem and was driving to her home in nearby Springville, a suburb of Provo.
Authorities think Lily Groesbeck, who was strapped into her car seat throughout the ordeal, was able to survive temperatures in the upper 20s because of the way the vehicle landed in the Spanish Fork River.
“It’s miraculous that the child was able to survive,” Spanish Fork Police Lt. Matt Johnson told The Post. “EMS stated that due to the way the car flipped into the river, the rear portion of the vehicle was far enough out of the water that the child was able to remain dry.”
Johnson said that water also was able to flow through the vehicle instead of sweeping it away.
When a fisherman discovered the vehicle at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the car was resting upside-down in the water, police said. Authorities responding to a report of an abandoned vehicle were shocked to discover the toddler strapped into her car seat, police said. The water was so cold that seven emergency responders were treated for hypothermia after they entered the water to perform the rescue, according to Fox affiliate KSTU.
In a mysterious twist, four of the rescuers involved told the Deseret News the next day that they recalled hearing a voice calling for help as they neared the car. However, when they flipped the vehicle, which had been resting on its hood, they discovered that nobody inside was capable of speaking.
“We were down on the car and a distinct voice says, ‘Help me, help me,’ ” officer Bryan Dewitt recalled.
“It wasn’t just something that was just in our heads. To me it was plain as day cause I remember hearing a voice,” officer Tyler Beddoes said. “I think it was Dewitt who said, ‘We’re trying. We’re trying our best to get in there.’
“How do you explain that? I don’t know,” he said, adding that the voice didn’t sound like a child.
“It was a positive boost for every one of us because I think it pushed us to go harder a little longer. I don’t think that any one of us had intended on flipping a car over that day,” Beddoes said. “We know there was some other help there, getting us where we needed to be.”
After prying open a door, rescuers unhooked Lily from her car seat and noticed her eyes were still fluttering. They began passing her up the hill to safety.
“Didn’t really think about anything except trying to get her out,” firefighter Paul Taultomadakis told the News. “Once I got ahold of her, I could tell that she still had some life.”
Groesbeck’s sister, Jill Sanderson, told KSTU that her niece is doing well, considering what she endured.
“The doctors so far have been hopeful, they haven’t been able to give us a lot of information, the next 48 to 72 hours will be very critical in determining the outcome.”
After checking the roadway for signs of evasive maneuvers, investigators are still trying to determine what caused Groesbeck’s vehicle to strike a concrete barrier before plunging 15 to 20 feet off the roadway and into the river below, police said. Johnson noted that weather was clear at the time of the accident.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Johnson said. “It’s a tragedy because of the death of the mother, but we’re very happy that the little girl survived.”
Her mother, Lynn Jennifer Groesbeck, a lifelong Utah resident and the youngest of five children, had dreams of becoming a medical assistant because she enjoyed helping others, according to NBC affiliate KSL-TV. Family members told the station she enjoyed being outdoors and spending time with loved ones, but it was her daughter that she was most passionate about.
“She was very compassionate and a very loving person and always willing to bend over backwards for her loved ones,” Sanderson told the station. “Her baby was the love of her life. She was an amazing mother.”
Friends have set up a GoFundMe page to help the family pay for funeral and medical costs. In less than a day of fundraising, the page had nearly doubled its $8,000 goal with more than $15,000 in donations.
[This post, originally published on Sunday, has been updated.]