A four-year-old Oregon girl dragged her seriously injured younger sister from a crashed car where their mother lay dead early Wednesday morning -- and the two sat outside, huddled under a blanket -- waiting for help.
The crash site was practically impossible to detect, because the mangled car was stuck deep in the woods and no skid marks were left on the highway, the Associated Press reported.
Authorities estimate that the girls were alone in the woods for several hours as motorists just passed by, according to AP.
No help came for the girls until two commercial fishermen spotted what looked like a basketball-sized gash in an alder tree along State Highway 401 between Astoria, Ore. and Naselle, Wash. Because the two men, Kraai McClure and Scott Beutler often travel the two-lane road, they sensed that something was wrong, AP reported.
So they slowed down, talked it over, and decided to turn around and take a look. McClure told AP that he called 911 to see if there had been any wreck reports throughout the night - but there weren't.
Beutler, who was a first responder when he used to live in Mississippi, went into the brush and advised McClure to contact authorities.
"I don't know exactly what told us to turn around, but I'm just really thankful we did," McClure said to AP.
They found the wrecked car a few hundred feet from the road, and then saw the two scared and confused young girls. McClure described them as "totally in shock."
The Washington State Patrol said the girls' mother, Jessica Rath, 26, of Astoria, Ore., was probably asleep when she veered off the road, struck the tree shortly after midnight and died on the scene.
The two-year-old was flown to a Portland hospital for serious injuries, while the four-year-old was treated at an Astoria hospital and released.
An Oregon Health & Science University spokeswoman confirmed that the younger sister, Lylah Huff, was at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, but the girls' father, Keaton Huff, declined interview requests Thursday and asked the hospital not to give information about his daughter's condition.
Trooper Russ winger told AP investigators believe the four-year-old pulled the two-year-old from the vehicle and brought her to a spot about 20 feet away, where the fishermen found them. Temperatures were in the low 40s, so keeping warm with the blanket was important, Winger said.
"Hypothermia sets in very quickly with something like that," Winger told AP. "They could have very well not been found and died of exposure."
"Hypothermia sets in very quickly with something like that," Winger said. "They could have very well not been found and died of exposure."
"She saved her sister," he said to AP. "She was sharp enough. I don't know how she did it or anything else, but something was watching over those little girls.
"It was amazing that the little 4-year-old - I have a little 4-year-old, too, she's almost 5 - was able to get her little sister out and do that," he added. "It just blows my mind that she could do that in that situation. I don't know if she waited until morning, when they could see, but, you know, it just makes me want to cry."
Investigators have not yet determined Ruth's driving speed, or if there were any other factors involved in the crash, AP reported. But The Longview Daily News reported in its Jan. 26 crime blotter that Rath was sentenced to 10 days in jail for heroin possession and third-degree theft.