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Rescuers Search For Bodies of Young Boys After River Accident

May 26, 1991

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) _ Rescuers searched shallow pools and combed shorelines Sunday for two young brothers presumed drowned after a relative’s car plunged into the icy waters of a river.

A great-aunt of the boys, age 5 and 3, drowned early Saturday after she apparently fell asleep at the wheel and missed a highway curve while they traveled to a family reunion, said Kris Fister, a Yosemite National Park spokesman.

The youngsters, their 7-year-old sister, their grandmother and the great- aunt climbed through a window onto the top of the car, which landed about 20 feet from shore in the swollen Merced River.

The boys jumped into the swift current after passersby threw a rope to the half-submerged vehicle and were pulling their sister to safety, Fister said.

″The little boys, seeing the sister jump out, thought that was how they were going to be rescued and they did jump in after her,″ Fister said.

The great-aunt, 44-year-old Elaine Watson, died trying to rescue the boys. Fister identified the older boy as Lance Thomas Jr. and his brother as Mario Thomas. Their grandmother, Pearl Watson Jordan, 62, and their sister, Sequoia Thomas, survived. All are from Compton.

Divers searched shallow pools and a dog that can sniff human scents through water was led along a 2 1/2 mile stretch of river, said park ranger John Dill, the rescue coordinator. Searchers also scanned rough terrain from a helicopter.

The success of the search depended on how quickly snow melted in the high country and swelled the already swift river, Dill said. Temperatures in Yosemite Valley were in the mid-70s.

″The river is running very fast, it’s real cold and there are trees and brush underwater that can trap people,″ Dill said.

Dill said if the bodies are caught by submerged debris in rougher waters, they may not be recovered until the river dries up later this summer.

The great-aunt’s body was recovered downstream and she was pronounced dead at Yosemite Medical Clinic. The grandmother was rescued from the car by rangers. She and Sequoia were treated for mild hypothermia at the clinic and released.

The whole family likely would have survived had they waited for rangers, said park ranger Mike Mayer. However, he said the deaths were not the bystanders’ fault.

″It was well-intentioned,″ Mayer said. ″In that situation, if you have a rope, you are going to do something.″

The family was traveling on Highway 140 in Yosemite Valley, a popular park destination. The river was swollen by snow just a week ago.

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