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Five Children Die When Car Sinks

April 14, 1999

EPHRATA, Wash. (AP) _ A car carrying seven people plunged off a rural gravel road and into a swift-flowing irrigation canal, where it sank upside down. Five children were killed.

Two women, the children’s mothers, escaped from the car through the driver’s side window and swam to safety after the accident Tuesday evening, the Grant County sheriff’s office said. They went to a nearby home to seek help.

The car was pulled from the water about two hours later and the bodies of the five boys were found in the back seat of the small, two-door car.

``There are a lot of traumatized people,″ said Undersheriff Mike Shay, who pulled the bodies out. ``Five children is a traumatic thing. You look at those five kids you think of your own children and grandchildren.″

The children were identified as Alexis Curiel, 2; Jose Curiel Jr., 4; Jose Chavez, 3; Martin Chavez, Jr., 2; and Victor Eduardo Chavez, 11.

Their mothers were identified as Rosa Curiel, 24, and Maria Chavez, 32. The families had been in the Ephrata-Quincy area three years, the sheriff’s office said.

The women had been traveling the canal access road on their way to visit a friend, Shay said.

Ephrata, with about 6,000 residents, is about 130 miles east of Seattle.

The arid region is crisscrossed with huge canals of the federal Columbia Basin Project, which distributes water from Grand Coulee Dam to hundreds of thousands of acres of potatoes and other crops.

Water in the canals can be more than 10 feet deep, depending on the time of year, and treacherous.

In 1997, four divers drowned in an irrigation canal near Yakima, about 100 miles southwest of Ephrata. Two of the divers were trying to retrieve abandoned and submerged cars, and the other two were search and rescue divers sent after them.

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