MIAMI, Okla. (AP) — Eight workers from southwest Missouri awoke before dawn and piled into an SUV, preparing to brave sub-zero temperatures and icy roads for the 40-mile commute to the farm in Oklahoma where they were mushroom harvesters.
As they neared their destination, the red Chevrolet Avalanche veered off a snowy highway bridge, launched off an angled, plowed snowdrift and over the guardrail, and plummeted 61 feet into a shallow icy river. Three died and the five others suffered from hypothermia and trauma in waist-deep water of the Spring River below the Interstate 44 bridge.
"The ground temperature was 11 degrees below zero, so it would take only a second to become hypothermic in this water and ice," said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. George Brown. "This is a very traumatic crash."
Two of the victims, driver Leonor Alcano, 31, and front-seat passenger Irma Garcia, 37, died of hypothermia after being pinned in the SUV, according to a Highway Patrol report. The six others climbed atop the vehicle. One of the initial survivors, Douglas Monzon, 22, fell into the water while reaching for a rope dangled by would-be rescuers and died later at a hospital.
All the victims were from Carthage, Mo., and worked at a mushroom farm east of Miami, Okla.
"It's just devastating," said Scott Engelbrecht, who runs the family-owned company with his brother. "We're all pretty close. It's tough."
Engelbrecht said the operation was shuttered Wednesday because of the weather and reopened Thursday. The 45 or so workers heard the news about their colleagues shortly after 9 a.m., he said.
"Locally the roads were in fairly decent shape," Engelbrecht said, his voice filling with emotion. "As an owner, you try to make the right decision."
The road had been impassable less than nine hours earlier after a blizzard that barreled through Oklahoma on Tuesday dumped more than 20 inches of snow, sleet and ice.
The patrol report said Alcano, driving westbound, lost control on the ice-covered road, hit a concrete wall, slid broadside and overturned before going over the bridge wall and falling 61 feet into water that was 4 feet deep. The report indicated Alcano was driving too fast given the road's conditions.